Tobacco Cedar candle in a glass container next to old books

The Surprising Connection Between Smell And Memory

Updated March 12, 2024

Have you ever inhaled an aroma that triggers a long lost childhood memory? Something as simple as the scent of freshly baked bread, cut grass, or a special perfume can open a floodgate of memories. But what's the connection between your sense of smell and your memory? 

Here's the science behind why smell and memory are linked.


Think about some of the scents that resonate most with you. For instance, does the smell of freshly mown grass make you think of carefree summers running barefoot as a child? 

Or maybe the warm scent of vanilla and cinnamon takes you back to fond holidays spent laughing with your family and friends? 

why is smell linked to memory

Get ready, because we're going to channel our inner Bill Nye to explain this one.

Your sense of smell is the sense most connected to memory. This is due to how close the olfactory nerve is to the memory center in our brain, and memories have a unique power over our emotions.

The psychology of smell, or olfactics, explains how our sense of smell influences our behaviors, emotions, and memories. Unlike other senses, smell has a direct pathway to the brain's limbic system, which is involved in emotion, behavior, and memory.

This unique connection means that scents can evoke memories and emotions more instantaneously and vividly than visual or auditory cues.


The "Proust Effect" refers to the phenomenon where smells evoke specific odor-linked memories, named after the French novelist Marcel Proust. 

In his novel "In Search of Lost Time," Proust describes an episode where the smell and taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea evoked a flood of childhood olfactory memories. 

This literary example has become synonymous with the power of sensory experiences, particularly smell and taste, to trigger detailed and emotional recollections from the past. 

The Proust Effect is often cited in discussions about the psychological and neurological connections between scent, taste, and memory recall.


It's almost like smell has a direct route to your stored memories—because in a way, it does! The magic of scent memory begins in a small but mighty part of our brain: the olfactory cortex. This neural structure acts as the brain's direct hotline to the world of aromas. 

olfactory sense of smell

When we inhale a scent, the olfactory bulb processes the information and sends it to other brain areas for further interpretation. It's closely linked to the amygdala and hippocampus, brain regions heavily involved in emotion and memory formation. 

This unique positioning allows the olfactory bulb to process scents and embed them within our emotional and autobiographical memories, making each smell a potent trigger for recalling past experiences.


This biological tie of smell triggering an emotional response is truly instinctual, the same way an animal can use their little sniffer to sense danger before anything happens. (And the same reason your pup comes running at the slightest whiff of bacon!)

Every scent carries an emotional fingerprint unique to each of your experiences and memories. This is why a particular fragrance can evoke joy in one person and nostalgia in another. 

When a familiar scent is detected, it not only prompts the recall of a pleasant memory but also resurrects the emotions associated with that moment. The amygdala, integral for processing emotions, has a direct connection to the hippocampus to give emotional color to these scent-induced memories. 

why is smell linked to memory

So, a simple aroma can suddenly fill us with happiness, longing, or even a sense of comfort, vividly bringing past moments to life.

The psychology of smell even extends to its impact on behavior and decision-making. Retailers and marketers have long exploited this, using scent marketing to influence consumer behavior.

Pleasant scents can enhance mood, potentially leading to longer store visits and increased likelihood of making a purchase. In a similar vein, companies invest in creating a signature scent for their brand to foster brand loyalty and create an emotional bond with consumers.


Scented candles serve as powerful tools in our daily lives for evoking memories. Each fragrance can act as a key to unlocking a vault of forgotten moments. The science behind this lies in the way our brain processes the complex compounds in scents. 

When we light a scented candle, the released fragrance molecules stimulate our olfactory receptors, and then your sense of smell can activate the memory and emotion centers in the brain. 

This process allows for a unique sensory experience where a simple scent from a candle can vividly bring back memories, from childhood experiences to significant life events.

Most Nostalgic Candle Scents To Trigger Positive Memories

#1 - Campfire Candle

campfire candle

This candle is likely to evoke nostalgic memories of outdoor adventures, gatherings around a fire with friends and family, and the simple pleasures of storytelling and marshmallow roasting under the stars.

#2 - Chamomile Candle

chamomile candle

The chamomile scent is renowned for its calming and soothing properties, often associated with relaxation and sleep. This candle is likely to evoke feelings of tranquility and peace, making it an ideal companion for moments of relaxation, meditation, or winding down before bedtime.

#3 - Coconut Candle

coconut candle

The coconut scent is often associated with tropical climates, sun-kissed beaches, and relaxed, carefree days. It has the power to evoke memories of summer vacations, exotic destinations, and the comforting warmth of the sun, making it a popular choice for those looking to bring a bit of paradise into their homes.

#4 - Honeydew Candle

honeydew candle

The scent of honeydew brings a fresh, sweet, and subtly crisp aroma into any space, evoking memories of summer days, picnics in the park, and the juicy sweetness of ripe melons. This fragrance is perfect for those looking to add a touch of freshness and lightness to their home.

#5 - Sea Salt Candle

sea salt candle

The sea salt scent offers a unique olfactory experience, reminiscent of breezy days by the ocean, the tranquil sound of waves, and the refreshing air of coastal landscapes. This fragrance is designed to evoke a sense of calm and serenity.


Whether it's the comforting scent of cinnamon reminiscent of festive holidays or the calming aroma of lavender evoking a tranquil summer garden, candles offer the potential to unlock a world of emotional and nostalgic connections. 

Scented candles are also a thoughtful gift, allowing recipients to relive and cherish their most treasured moments. Aroma-tied memories are our inspiration here at Kalamazoo Candle Company. We're devoted to finding new ways to transport you into a space of joy and calm, even for a moment.

Browse our entire collection of candles or make your own candle creations with our DIY candle kits.