Odors help create multi-modal memories
May 27, 2004

BOSTON, May 26, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Neurobiologists in Boston say they may have found clues as to how the brain is able to recall sights, smells, tastes, and sounds.

Jay Gottfried said he his colleagues performed brain activity mapping that revealed new details as to how "the recollection of a seaside holiday may conjure up the sight of a beach umbrella, the sound of crashing surf, and the smell of brackish seaweed,"

The scientists sought to discover whether the brain's olfactory centers contribute to reconstructing multi-sensory memories.

While other researchers have found the visual and auditory brain regions were activated during memories of pictures and sounds, it wasn't known whether taste and smell brain regions similarly participated in memory association.

In their experiments, the researchers presented human volunteers with random combinations of an odor and the image of an object and asked them to imagine a link or story that associated the two.

They found the subjects' odor-processing brain region, called the piriform cortex, was significantly activated when they saw objects previously associated with odors -- even though the odors were not presented during the image recognition.