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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jul;1170:318-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.03934.x.

Autobiographical odor memory.

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Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


This overview focuses on autobiographical odor memory and how information evoked by the olfactory sense may differ from memories evoked by visual or verbal information. Three key topics are addressed: (a) age distributions of evoked memories; (b) phenomenological experience; and (c) semantic processing. Current evidence suggests that memories triggered by olfactory information are localized to the first decade of life (< 10 years) rather than to young adulthood (10-30 years) which is the typical finding for memories evoked by verbal and visual information. Further, empirical evidence indicates that odor evoked memories are more emotional, associated with stronger feelings of being brought back in time, and have been thought of less often as compared to memories evoked by other sensory cues. Finally, previous observations of a significant impact of semantic influences on olfactory processing may also be generalized to retrieval of odor evoked autobiographical information. Specifically, both the age distribution and phenomenological qualities are affected by explicit knowledge of the odor cue. Taken together, the overall pattern of findings indicates that personal memories evoked by olfactory information are different from memories evoked by verbal or visual information.

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