A picture is worth a thousand smells

Brits are so in tune with their senses that they can recall the smell associated with a scene or location – just by looking at a photo of it. That’s according to research released by Nikon.

The study, which was conducted across 23 countries, revealed that 47% of Brits can remember the scent associated with a photograph, while just under a quarter said they would actively take a picture of something based purely on the way it smells. The results also show that British women are more likely to pay attention to the scent of their surroundings when taking a picture than men, with over a quarter stating they would capture a photograph of something that smells appealing – for example a rose garden.

Commenting on the research, Dr Rachel Herz, a leading world expert in the psychological science of scent and Professor at Brown University, said: “This research shows just how powerful the link between our memories and the sense of smell really is. While a photograph can visually remind us of a particular moment in time, if it is accompanied by scent it will elicit even more emotional and evocative memories – more than any other memory trigger.”

When asked to rate a list of scents that were most likely to trigger a memory, over 53% of Brits named the smell of freshly cut grass as their top ‘Memory Scent’, with the smell of sunscreen and baby talc coming in at second and third.

Britain’s top five scents of a memory:

  1. Freshly cut grass – childhood sports days and playing football
  2. Sunscreen – the beach and summer holidays
  3. Baby talc – newborn baby
  4. Candy Floss – carnivals / fairgrounds
  5. Farmyard – time spent on a farm or in the countryside

Referring to the results, Dr Herz said, “For many years scientists have conducted research into the link between our senses and our ability to recall memories. My research shows that our sense of smell in particular has a uniquely intimate and direct connection with the area of the brain that controls emotional memory. It’s not surprising that so many people chose freshly cut grass and sunscreen as their top memory scents, as these aromas are strongly associated with childhood – the time when our first scent memories are being formed. For many, any scents associated with childhood – such as the smell of a hot summer’s day in the fairground – have a particularly strong ability to trigger an emotional memory that takes them back to their youth.”

The research was conducted with the input of 11,500 people living in 23 countries.

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