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Olfaction and emotion: The case of autobiographical memory

Abstract

This study investigated (1) the influence of verbal and conceptual processing on the retrieval and phenomenological evaluation of olfactory evoked memories, and (2) whether the experienced qualities of retrieved information are affected by olfactory exposure per se. Seventy-two older adults were randomized into one of three cue conditions (odor only, name only, or odor name) and asked to relate any autobiographical event for the given cue. The results indicated that semantic knowledge of an odor’s name significantly affects the age distribution of memories such that the memory peak in childhood observed for odors only was attenuated. Also, experiential factors such as pleasantness and feelings of being brought back in time were lower when odors were presented with their respective names. Olfactory evoked memories were associated with a higher emotional arousal that could not be accounted for by the perceptual stimulation alone. Taken together, the overall pattern of findings suggests that retrieval of olfactory evoked information is sensitive to semantic and conceptual processing, and that odor-evoked representations are more emotional than memories triggered by verbal information.

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Correspondence to Johan Willander.

Additional information

This work was supported by Swedish Research Council Grant F0647/2001 to M.L. The authors thank Mats J. Olsson and Fredrik Jönsson for Uppsala lab space. Also, hearty thanks to all of the devoted participants in the Autobiographical Memory Project II.

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Willander, J., Larsson, M. Olfaction and emotion: The case of autobiographical memory. Memory & Cognition 35, 1659–1663 (2007). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193499

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Keywords

  • Vantage Point
  • Autobiographical Memory
  • Conceptual Processing
  • Olfactory Information
  • Chemical Sens