There’s a reason why the perfume industry is a billion dollar industry. Out of all our senses, smell is the one that seems the most primal. And it’s not just a feeling, there’s actual neuroscience behind it. Whether the smell of cookies transports you back to childhood or a stranger’s deodorant or perfume reminds you of a long lost love, you can thank your limbic system for those nostalgic feelings.
Where Smells Go
When you smell perfume, molecules from the liquid stimulate receptors in your nose. This information is sent to your brain via the cranial nerve and received by the olfactory bulb. And now, we’re in the limbic system. One cluster of neurons in this system that’s responsible for producing emotional memories is the amygdala. The close association between the olfactory bulb and the amygdala is why smells immediately trigger feelings. You might not remember the exact details of that memory, but the emotions are incredibly strong.
Primates Aren’t Really Into Smells
Humans are visual animals and use our eyes to analyze the world around us. If we go back tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors were identifying ripe fruit, picking non-poisonous berries, and looking out for predators. The same is true today; we’re just looking at and processing different things. We’re identifying street signs, reading the newspaper, or recognizing the correct bus to take. When we try to remember something, the focus is on the details. What does it look like? Where have I seen it before? Very rarely do we focus on the emotions of the memory. Unlike smell.
The Limbic System
Aside from smell nostalgia, the limbic system is also responsible for other important intangibles in life – motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. This system is closely connected to the endocrine system, meaning that it can elicit a physical response. Remember the amygdala from earlier? Another one of its jobs is playing a role in the “fight or flight” response. Here’s another piece of evidence that the limbic system really doesn’t do much thinking!
Most people, when they are frightened or angry, lose all ability to rationalize the situation. Instead, they respond with emotions. Very, very strong emotions. It can be anything from screaming and yelling in anger to screaming and yelling in terror (and then running away). Only after the person calms down do they realize, “Whoa! I did NOT think that through.”
What is Reason?
David Hume once said that, “Reason is the slave of the passions.” And in a way, he’s right. As much as we value our ability to think logically and objectively, we are at the mercy of our limbic system. Especially when it comes to smells… and scary things. Instead of fighting this emotional response, we should all embrace it. Because as irrational as it is, our limbic system is what makes us feel alive and makes us human. Purchase our limbic system necklace for yourself or for a friend. It also makes a great gift for passionate artists, passionate scientists, passionate people, and passionate, starry-eyed pre-med students.
written by Science with Evie