Improving Your Memory For Odors

Some people have keener noses than others, but everyone can improve their sense of smell by consciously attending to the fragrances and odors in their environment.

Organoleptic analysts (food sniffers) for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration smell and test food for spoilage from dog food to fish.

They are swifter and far more reliable with their nose than any chemical test that could be used.

Helen Keller could identify her friends as they entered the room by their odors alone.

Natives in primitive areas of the world still rely heavily on their sense of smell to seek out prey and detect possible enemies.

Many jungle fighters rely on their sense of smell to gain an advantage in confrontations.

Tuba Mbae, a Paraguayan healer once built up a flourishing reputation by making diagnoses from smelling the patient's shirts, socks or underclothing.

Oriental medicine still includes smell as part of a standard diagnosis.

When you go into a room full of various scents and aromas, can you discern most of them?

Do you even notice them?

Which do you think crackles the brain cells more, the acknowledging and consciously identifying of different odors in your environment or the ignoring of those same scents?

By heightening your olfactory awareness, you can conceivably enter a room and tell who had been there before you, or what was on the stove or what medicines, flowers or perfumes were in the air.

Practicing with this exercise will make you better at odor discernment.

Unlike your other senses though, a good olfactory memory is more quickly acquired, and stays with you longer, because it shares the same brain center (the limbic system) that involves your basic emotional responses (pleasure, fear, anger and sex).

Olfactory impulses travel a shorter, more direct route to your brain than do visual and auditory messages, and they do not criss cross like other neural connections on each side of the body.

Subjects that learned over 100 different household odors from vinegar to perfume were tested a couple days later and were found to have about a 65% - 70% retention rate -- and when tested years later, the same percentage existed.

Much of memory concerns state-related associations.

In one experiment, students memorized a given set of words in the presence of a certain odor.

When the students were given the same set of words the next day in the presence of the same odor, they showed much better recall than a control group learning the same words and exposed to no odor on either day.

With people who have vivid visualization abilities, just imagining an odor while learning something can work equally as well.

As an exercise, put small quantities of 10 different pipe tobaccos, herbs, spices,gelatin flavors, incense or flower essences into small bottles and give an identifying label to each.

After smelling each one, imagine its odor in your mind connected to some other sensory image (review "Exercise - Developing Synesthesia").

Ask yourself, "What does this odor feel, sound or taste like (smell and taste are normally synesthetically combined anyway when you eat a meal)?

" You might create a specific visual scene that the scent reminds you of; or an auditory or tactile association that you feel is appropriate for each smell; or connect a color to each odor if that feels appropriate.

Then have your assistant let you smell and identify each bottle again, but this time while you're blindfolded.

Record your score of successes.

Mix combinations of 3 scents together and label each mixture; then identify the separate scents in each combination while blindfolded.

Since the nose becomes rather desensitized to an odor in a matter of seconds, you can quickly clear your nose by sticking it into your armpit if you're wearing a natural fabric like wool, cotton or linen.

Next, have your assistant give you a different batch of 10 scents with their appropriate identification, but this time connect to each one something emotional.

For instance, imagine how horrible the odor would taste; or create a specific emotional incident in your life to connect with each aroma.

(Remember, your basic emotions and your olfactory brain center share the same limbic neural network, so you may already associate many odors with certain emotions, from nausea to pleasantries.

) After connecting each identified aroma with something emotional, let your assistant give you the scents in a mixed way again for you to recall while blindfolded, and see if your score of successes is better this time.

During the day every time you smell an unfamiliar odor, find out what it was and commit it to your memory storehouse.

Correct identifications of smells and odors make you more aware of your surroundings, and all connective brain pathways established in your memory make other areas more accessible and easily usable.

The more you recognize available information in this world, the more adequate and versatile you become.

In emergency situations, many people suffer needless injury or die simply because of lack of familiarity with the various stimuli and input at hand.

Who knows, having a good memory for odors may save your life one day!