In the field of health psychology, an understanding of how biology, behavior and social context influence an individual’s or group’s health or illness is taken into account. In the last decade, the applicability of health psychology has been advanced and utilized the more, resulting in an increase in doubts cast by critics as to the importance and usefulness of cognitive psychology. Particular models that address memory aspects of visual and verbal information processing with minimal acknowledgment of any sensory modalities have come under heavy criticism. However, research in olfactory memory literature has rapidly expanded since the 1970’s and has risen beyond conventional memory research. Therefore, the literature herein examines principally on the Proustian characteristics of smell and the relationship between olfactory memory and other closely related types of memory. It is key to note that findings from research conducted on olfaction have been consequently used as a base for theories in other fields though caution must be applied so as not to base these general theories on narrowly researched databases. The chief objectives of the study are to investigate the relationship between olfaction and memory and the most remembered olfactory stimuli through a literature review of various articles.

In Baddeley’s 1992 fifteenth Bartlett lecture; he expressed a long-standing commitment expressed by most experienced psychologists in devising theories aimed at encompassing data from diverse sources. He expressed that a theory in health psychology should be economical while giving a plausible account of existing findings that bring into light new discoveries in this field. These discoveries should, in turn, mold the theory through a “gradual, cumulative modification of the theory.” He further suggested that models should be applied over a wide range of situations or fields; that is scope rather than precision. This notwithstanding, research carried on the basis of findings presented from the Ebbinghaus and Bartlett traditions concentrates chiefly on verbal rather than visual cognition. However, there has been little contemporary support in literature such as in Morris & Grunberg, 1994 which attempted to inspect whether theories and models in human memory, in reference to modality, relate to memory phenomena in other sensory modalities such as touch, taste, or smell. Comprehensive reviews carried out on olfactory cognition and its influence by the conven­tional memory literature such as Richardson & Zucco, 1989 and Schab, 1991 shows an interesting analysis and relation to new research areas.

The relationship between olfaction and memory can best be illustrated by a perception of smell and the triggering of a long-forgotten event. A perfume may remind someone of a long forgotten person. Research carried out by Engen in 1987 claimed that odor memory does not trigger the short-term memory which has been contradicted by the 1997 White and Treisman report. Although evidence of olfactory primacy under which stimuli presented at the beginning of a study is best remembered through rehearsal, the report provides a strong base in the evidence presented for recency in olfaction. White and Treisman argued on the basis that olfactory memory is a result of individuals assigning assign verbal meanings to olfactory stimuli. The study further claims that olfactory sense is a crucial sense in animals. This is further supported by the evidence presented on the existence of peripheral olfactory memory in imprinted salmon which was carried out by Nevitt et. al in 1994. The study found out that the “remark honing ability of salmon relies on olfactory cues though its cellular basis is unknown.” The role of peripheral olfactory receptors in odorant memory retention was done through imprinting Coho salmon with phenyl ethyl alcohol. This study verified that there was an increased preference for phenyl ethyl alcohol in salmon adults, therefore proving that some “component of the imprinted olfactory home stream memory appears to be retained peripherally.”

The most remembered olfactory stimuli were investigated by Rabin & Cain in 1984. The findings showed that memory was enhanced by familiarity and identifiability. Learning processes have been found to imprint olfaction especially in animals. Frances Darling and Burton Slotnick 1994 research in rats showed that they quickly learned “to avoid licking at a drinking tube containing an odorant and quinine hydrochloride”. Learning was quickly in response to the combination of odor and taste stimuli. Therefore, it was inferred the brain can be equipped with an olfactory memory mechanism. Rats had the capability to locate food through olfactory memory further supports the existence of an olfactory memory.



Baddeley, A. (1992). The Fifteenth Bartlett Lecture. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 44, 1-31.

G A Nevitt, A. H. (1994). Evidence for a peripheral olfactory memory in imprinted salmon. Seattle: Department of Zoology, University of Washington.

Morris, P. E. (1994). Theoretical Aspects of Memory. London: Routledge.

Rabin, M. D. (1984). Odor recognition: Familiarity, identifiability, and encoding consistency. J. Exp. Psychol.