The smell of saltwater wafts through the air. Suddenly, you recall childhood summers spent at the beach. Or maybe it's a whiff of Bakhoor, or the scent of the attar your mom used to wear. Our noses have a way of sniffing out nostalgia.
“I stepped into an elevator and a bunch of people piled in behind me. I was behind a woman with her back to me, her hair was in my nose, and I could smell the Oud, and I hadn’t smelled it for ages. It instantly transported me to my grandmother’s home in Cairo.”
While all the senses trigger memories, smell in particular sparks a flurry of emotional memories. Why?
After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As part of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories.
Olfactory has a strong input into the amygdala, which processes emotions and evokes powerful memories. This close relationship between the olfactory and the amygdala is one of the reason odors cause a spark of nostalgia.
We don’t use emotional memory extensively today, but its powerful and brings back the feelings not the details. You might not remember the colour of the hijab but the feeling that it triggers, the emotion that it brings back is strong.