Essay on Why Smell and Taste are Particularly Powerful for Memory

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977 words
Vanderbilt University
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Taste and smell are critical tools for memory and recall, most probably because they are crucial for the survival of human beings. Memories differ from each other in complexity level and the level of detail. These memories often are triggered by one sense or a combination of different senses that relate to the specific memory. The brain has various stages of creating a memory namely encoding the memory, storing it, and retrieving it. The retrieval of memory is linked to stimuli that are related to the memory, which makes it reappear. It is essential to determine the relationship between the senses of smell and taste and their influence on memory to understand the nature of memories further (Zucco, Hummel, Tomaiuolo, & Stevenson 2014).

Studies have been conducted to find out the extent of influence that the senses have on memories creation and retrieval. One such study is that of Lily Yang on the impact of taste on a human beings memory in the year 2015. In the study, the researcher seeks to investigate whether the taste cue helped retrieve memories more about recovering them without the sense as a stimulus. The researcher also aimed at finding out whether a taste that was pleasant and associated with a positive feeling was better at triggering memory than a flavor that had a negative impression of the individual. The researcher based the study on the aspects of memory previously studied by other researchers such as the memory creating process and the memory of emotional events compared to neutral events.

The researcher used a sample of thirty people for the survey who were of the same gender and age. The participants got well informed about the procedure and purpose of the study. The participants were then grouped into three groups of ten each A, B, & C. Group A noted down their favorite drinks while group B indicated their least favorite beverages and group C was the control group was shown the images on a projector for the other participants. Each participant was assigned two sixty ml cups filled with their respective drinks. The participants got a list of questions they were supposed to remember while drinking their beverages (Yang 2015).

The study found that the groups given drinks performed relatively well in the questions compared to Group C who did not get any drink. It was clear that taste was an essential cue for memory retrieval as some of the participants viewed the requirement to drink as they looked at the images as a distraction regardless of whether the drink was their favorite or not. The most probable explanation is that the beverage being a distraction invoked an opinion that was transferred to the brain as an opinion about the image they were viewing. This idea of the drinks tastes then led to the reappearance of the pictures from memory. In the next segment of the study, the groups that were given a drink as they answered questions performed rather poorly compared to the control group C who did not receive any drink. This result pointed to the fact that the taste did not aid positively in the memory of details and events. In fact, it influenced the retrieval of the particulars negatively. The study also concluded that the type of emotion created from the retrieval taste cue did not affect the level of detail of information in the memory.

Another similar study by Laura Shrode focused on the impact of smell and emotion or feelings on the memory of an individual. The research aimed at determining the effects of intrusion of scent on the memory (Shrode 2012). It seeks to investigate the extent and degree of relationship between smell, emotion and memory retrieval. The author also linked the research to other studies conducted by other professionals in the field making the comparison of their findings and drawing conclusions from them relative to the survey. The research focused on determining the relation between feelings and memory, olfaction or smell and emotion and finally olfaction and the human memory. The researcher also reviewed the limitations of odor and perceptions on the human memory where they were only used as memory cues in situations of dependency. This conclusion was according to a study conducted by Aggleton and Waskett.

The survey was conducted with a sample size of thirty-two participants, which only thirty-one sample points were used because of an error that led to the loss of one point. The demographics of the sample used was fourteen men and seventeen women who were all aged between ages eighteen and twenty-two years leading up to a mean age of 19.9 years. Two scents used for the study namely pure vanilla extract and fish sauce. Participants were required to memorize specific words, and in the process, a fan was turned on distributing the own scents. All tests were carried out on a computer utilizing the Medialab Version 2010 and the DirectRT research software version 2010 software. The research determined that no significant impact that could be drawn from scent intrusion on the memory of words as previous studies had suggested.

After looking at the results of the studies on the impact on both sense of smell and taste, it was apparent that more research was necessary to shed light on the facts. This result alluded to the fact that there was not a significant direct relationship between odor and taste intrusion and memory as previously thought. Further studies should look deeper into the phenomenon avoiding bias from studies already carried out in the past.



Lily Yang (2015). The effects of taste on memory.Shrode, L. R. (2012). The influence of odor and emotion on memory. Psychology Commons, 1-26.

Zucco, G. M., Hummel, T., Tomaiuolo, F., & Stevenson, R. J. (2014). The influence of short-term memory on standard discrimination and cued identification olfactory tasks. Journal of neuroscience methods. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 222, 138-141.


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