Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.
How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.
I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development.
Neuroscientists believe that there are different kinds of memories, stored in many different neural circuits. “We can’t go to a particular spot in the brain to see where our third birthday party is stored,” says Dr. Hudson….
Scientists think the brain’s prefrontal cortex processes experiences, using sensory input from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, sorts them into categories, and tags the various memory fragments with specific associations (smells of home, friends from camp, bugs, a pet, for example).
Reading this made me realize how important the senses are to unlocking childhood memories. I must admit I could do a better job of incorporating sensory questions into my interviews. To get me pointed in the right direction, I’ve written a few sample “sensory” questions below.
I tested some out on my mother and she had great fun. It turns out that a taste she strongly associates with her childhood is jelly beans. Her mother would carefully count out five each for her and her two siblings. Today this may not sound like much but during The Depression jelly beans were a real treat!
How much do you incorporate sense-related questions into your interviews? Do you have a favorite “sensory” question?
- What do you remember most about your mother’s appearance?
- Paint a picture for me of where you lived – the weather, terrain.
- What sounds do you associate with your childhood? What memories do they evoke?
- What piece of music do you remember from your childhood?
- What was your favorite food when you were a child?
- What tastes do you associate with your childhood?
- What do you recall were things you loved to touch as a child?
- What do you remember liking to run your hands over or through?
- What are some of the pleasant smells you associate with your childhood? What memories do they bring back?
- What smells from your childhood weren’t pleasant? What memories do they evoke?
Photo by h.koppdelaney
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