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Article: Link proved between senses and memory

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  • Robert Karl Stonjek
    Link proved between senses and memory Brain scans show how sights and smells evoke the past. 31 May 2004 MICHAEL HOPKIN Marcel Proust reflected that the smell
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2004
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      Link proved between senses and memory
      Brain scans show how sights and smells evoke the past.
      31 May 2004
      MICHAEL HOPKIN
      Marcel Proust reflected that "the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, ready to remind us... the immense edifice of memory". It's a familiar phenomenon: a single smell or sound has the power to conjure up entire scenes from the past. Now a British-led group of neuroscientists has come up with an explanation.
       
      The key, the researchers claim, is that memories relating to an event are scattered across the brain's sensory centres but marshalled by a region called the hippocampus. If one of the senses is stimulated to evoke a memory, other memories featuring other senses are also triggered.
       
      This explains why a familiar song or the smell of a former lover's perfume has the power to conjure up a detailed picture of past times, says Jay Gottfried of University College London's Department of Imaging Neuroscience, who led a recent study of memory retrieval.
       
      "That's the beauty of our memory system," he says. "Imagine a nice day on the beach. The smell of sun lotion, the friends you were with, the beer you were drinking; any of these could trigger memories of the whole thing."
       
      Gottfried's team made the discovery by presenting subjects with a series of pictures, each paired with an unrelated smell. The subjects were asked to form a mental link between the two: if, for example, a picture of a duck was accompanied by the smell of roses, the volunteers may have imagined a duck walking into a rose garden.
       
      Read the rest at Nature
       
      Comment:
      The memory evoked by smell seems to have either an olfactory or emotional nature.  What odour, for instance, evokes the memory of a phone number, math formula or the book you've just read?
       
      The survival advantage of odour-memory is clear - a place, a person, an animal or food item needs to be recalled quickly and efficiently, and being down wind, one can presciently recall the relevant information associated with the animal, person or place one is about to encounter.
       
      Why and how memory evolved way beyond the naturalist form is more of a mystery, and one of the keys to explaining why humans appear to be so very different from other animals.
       
      Reading 'Kanzi' at the moment, a Bonobo ape taught to communicate via lexigrams.  It seems that Kanzi's memory is much better than his ability to communicate and recall symbolic (abstract) symbols would imply.
       
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      Robert Karl Stonjek.
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