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Chem Senses. 2012 May;37(4):379-88. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjr120. Epub 2012 Jan 9.

Slow breathing and emotions associated with odor-induced autobiographical memories.

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Department of Physiology, Showa University School of Medicine, 1-5-8 Hatanodai, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 142-8555, Japan.


An important feature of olfactory perception is its dependence on respiratory activity. By inspiration, olfactory information ascends directly to olfactory-related limbic structures. Therefore, every breath with odor molecules activates these limbic areas associated with emotional experience and memory retrieval. We tested whether odors associated with autobiographical memories can trigger pleasant emotional experiences and whether respiration changes during stimulation with these odors. During presentation of odors related to autobiographical memories and control odors, we measured minute ventilation, tidal volume, respiratory frequency, O2 consumption, and end tidal CO2 concentration. Findings showed that autobiographical memory retrieval was associated with increasing tidal volume and decreasing respiratory frequency more than during presentation of control odors. Subjective feelings such as emotional arousal during retrieval of the memory, arousal level of the memory itself, or pleasantness and familiarity toward the odor evoked by autobiographical memory were more specific emotional responses compared with those related to control odors. In addition, high trait anxiety subjects responded with a stronger feeling of being taken back in time and had high arousal levels with tidal volume increases. We discussed assumptions regarding how deep and slow breathing is related to pleasantness and comfortableness of an autobiographical memory.

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