Smell your way back to childhood: Autobiographical odor memory

Abstract

This study addressed age distributions and experiential qualities of autobiographical memories evoked by different sensory cues. Ninety-three older adults were presented with one of three cue types (word, picture, or odor) and were asked to relate any autobiographical event for the given cue. The main aims were to explore whether (1) the age distribution of olfactory-evoked memories differs from memories cued by words and pictures and (2) the experiential qualities of the evoked memories vary over the different cues. The results showed that autobiographical memories triggered by olfactory information were older than memories associated with verbal and visual information. Specifically, most odor-cued memories were located to the first decade of life (<10 years), whereas memories associated with verbal and visual cues peaked in early adulthood (11–20 years). Also, odor-evoked memories were associated with stronger feelings of being brought back in time and had been thought of less often than memories evoked by verbal and visual information. This pattern of findings suggests that odor-evoked memories may be different from other memory experiences. nt|mis|This work was supported by a grant from the Swedish Research Council (No. F0647/2001) to M.L.

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Correspondence to Johan Willander.

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Willander, J., Larsson, M. Smell your way back to childhood: Autobiographical odor memory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 13, 240–244 (2006). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193837

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Keywords

  • Autobiographical Memory
  • International Affective Picture System
  • Experiential Quality
  • Olfactory Information
  • Olfactory Stimulation