Your nose knows when it comes to stronger memories

Posted on June 22, 2019

This research is spanned over different age groups, which suggests that aversive odours might be used in the future to examine emotional learning and memory processes across developments. The generalisation and persistence in memory of learned negative associations is that it will often result in anxiety disorders, which often emerge during adolescence.

To build on the knowledge, researchers used the Pavlovian learning task for individuals aged 13 to 25 – to better understand how learned negative associations influence memory during this stage of development. Participants carried out their designated tasks while wearing a nasal mask connected to an olfactometer. Unpleasant smells were circulated through the device to the mask at certain category while unscented air was used for another category.

This allowed researchers to examine memory for images associated with a bad smell as well as for generalisation to related images. This difference association would be used to test if memory is enhanced during unpleasant smells. The unpleasant odours were blends of chemical compounds provided by a local perfumer and included scents like rotting fish and manure.

Participants were further evaluated based on their perspiration from their palms as an index of arousal – a common research technique used to confirm the creation of a negative association (in this case, of a bad smell). A day later, researchers tested participants’ memory for the images.

Findings showed that both adolescents and adults showed better memory specifically for images paired with the bad smell 24 hours after they saw these images. They also found that individuals with larger arousal responses at the point when they might experience either a bad smell or clean air while viewing the image, regardless of whether a smell was delivered, had better memory 24 hours later. This suggests that unpredictability or surprise associated with the outcome leads to better memory.

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions

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