Long before scientific studies were conducted on how smells have a powerful ability to trigger the recall of memories, famed 20th century French novelist Marcel Proust had already used the idea in his book ”Remembrance of Things Past.” The literature is a 7-part novel released between 1913 and 1927, in which Proust’s narrative delved on how people can relive important events of the past through smells.
Maria Larsson of the Gösta Ekman Laboratory, Department of Psychology at the Stockholm University, is an expert in the study of memory. She became interested in the study of smell when it dawned on her that novelists like Marcel Proust narrated descriptions about the connection between smells and memories.
Yet, when she looked for scientific literature that can provide scientific evidence, she found that the effect of smells on human memory as told by Proust, has yet to be proven. Larson then set out to embark on a scientific mission to prove if smells can really trigger emotional memories.
The Proust Effect as Proven by Scientific Studies
An expert in the field of perception and psychophysics, Ms. Larson modeled her work after Proust’s literature. She carried on by exposing older people to a variety of smells and later interviewed them about the memory evoked by a particular smell.
Ms. Larson was amazed at the results of their experiment, saying they came to a conclusion that memories brought on by smells were more vivid and emotional, when compared to memories evoked by visual or verbal prompts.
She was amazed to learn that the peak of memories recalled via smells can go as far back as age 5.
”It was really, totally clear that when they recollected a specific memory, that memory was localized to the childhood period.”
Scents today find use not only as enhancers of human body odor. Since it has been established that people tend to process smells by associating it to certain memories stored in the back of their minds, modern day product designers now use scintillating and aromatic fragrances as a form of consumer enticement.