Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Madeleine Effect

Have you ever caught a whiff of something and suddenly been thrust back to another time and place? I know that whenever I smell a particular ginger/molasses aroma, I am instantly back in the warm cozy kitchen of my grandmother Margaret. Scientists have a name for this: The Madeleine Effect. This is based on a passage written by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past. He describes how the fragrance of a madeleine cake dipped into linden tea suddently sent him back to his childhood. When a strong memory is evoked by catching a sudden sniff of a scent, "the madeleine effect" is present.

This reference is found in an article in the current issue of Scientific American Mind. Author Eleonore Von Bothmer points out that the sense of smell is one of the oldest senses, from an evolutionary point of view, and is strongly associated with emotions and memory. Interestingly, loss of smell may be indicative of some neurodegenerative diseases. For example, at the onset of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, people frequently lose their ability to smell.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This may not be a very perfumed scent, but I am transported by the smell of burning grass. In 1962 I was not quite 3 and on the day of the Columbus Day Storm, grass seed growers in the mid-Willamette Valley were burning their fields. That smoke was pushed north by the winds of that freak storm, and whenever I catch a whiff of that smell, I remember the strange color of the sky that day, the trees down throughout town, and the electricity going out. Perhaps not the smell of Grandma's cookies, but evocative, nonetheless.

eyesofsunshine said...

This may make you laugh, but the smell that throws me back in time is the smell that comes from the motor of my grandma's old hand mixer. I still have it and use it on occasion and can't resist sniffing it! Grandma used to make the best home made donuts! I didn't care much for the fruitcake, but the donuts were out of this world!

medertainer said...

CD's Poison always send me back to the day when my Mum was getting ready for a dinner when I was 6. She just got the perfume for her birthday present from my Dad.. =D

p/s: I love your blog!