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Monday
Nov262012

39: Smell You Later

 

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Hey, who farted? We sniff out the story behind scents and smells! How our brains associate smells with memories, Smell-o-Vision at the movies, bizarre perfume ingredients, the odd world of celebrity fragrances, how stores are manipulating you with scents, anosmia, and can you trademark a smell? 

ALSO: Um, Actually..., fantastic old-timey words, "First in Line" quiz.

RUNTIME: 47 minutes 50 seconds

 

Featured Interlude Music:

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Cover) by The Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra  Amazon | iTunes 

 

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Reader Comments (8)

Flibbertigibbet is actually in the song Maria in the Sound of Music.

November 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKara

And flapdoodle is mentioned by Mr. Magorium in his Wonder Emporium

November 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlizzy

Apparently, according to the wonderful QI loss of the sense of smell causes more suicides than loss of sight or hearing.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

As a neuroscientist, I feel like I should clarify what you talked about with the brain. The hippocampus/amygdala complex isn't the pleasure center of the brain — it's involved in memory formation. The amygdala has connections all over the brain, including the olfactory nerve (via the thalamus) and other perceptual cortices. It also interfaces with the hippocampus, influencing how memories are stored, and with the frontal cortex, influencing how much attention you pay to a stimulus.

When you smell something, it immediately triggers the amygdala and hippocampus. The interplay between those two allow to remember a smell and the emotions associated with it, and in essence cause the brain to replay the same feelings you had the first time you smelled it — and every time you've remembered it since then (memories are complicated, ever-changing things). The amygdala also has pretty robust tracts connecting it to the nucleus accumbens, one of the parts of the brain involved in pleasure and reward.

The real magic happens the first time you smell something. The amygdala responds to pleasant and unpleasant smells, and if you smell something bad, it releases stress chemicals into the hippocampus and frontal cortex. This alters the way the you perceive and remember the smell. This activation causes you to focus more on the smell and less on surrounding smells (through activation of the frontal lobes) and also leads to you remembering it better (by causing the hippocampus to make the memory more robust).

All of this happens unconsciously and very rapidly (within seconds), though the memories take longer to form. A bad smell triggers a quick, deeply unpleasant response and further reinforces the negativity associated with the smell.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I know at least one word created for a smell- petrichor. It's a word invented to name the wonderful smell after it rains. Doctor Who fans and similar veins of geekery ;) are familiar due to its prominent use in the last couple of seasons.

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny C.

@Kara + @Lizzy: NOW I REMEMBER!!!

@Andrew: Man, that is so cool. Our bodies are amazing. And so humble to have an actual brain scientist comment here!

@Jenny: Dana and I are big Doctor Who fans too (thought I haven't watched the latest season yet). Your comment was so awesome I had to tweet it. :)

November 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGJB Karen

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