Have you ever popped a piece of candy in your mouth only to suddenly think about when your mom would give it to you as an after-school treat as a kid? For a moment, you can feel the sun on your skin and the happiness you felt as you sat in the backseat headed home.
Or maybe, you grab something like a Tootsie Pop and suddenly taste the nostalgic sweetness of that hard candy in your mouth and you are right back to that time. Even 20 years later, you stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and smile.
You are having what is called a "Proustian experience". It is when a vivid memory is triggered by something we taste or smell. Scientists believe it exists, but have yet to prove it.
The simple unscientific explanation is you like the tastes you grew up with and your perception of taste is directly linked to your sense of smell and both act like threads linking to your memories.
When you come across certain familiar tastes or smells an involuntary autobiographical memory is triggered. These types of memories are cued anytime you encounter something in everyday life that evokes a memory without a conscious effort.
Photo Credit: Tootsie Pops
Take that Tootsie Pop. Your senses and emotions are intricately linked, so a taste of your favorite candy can bring back a flood of memories. Now throw in the visual effect of watching those memorable commercials you saw as a kid and you are fully surrounded by a wonderful feeling of nostalgia!
Ask anyone about their favorite childhood candy and they immediately laugh and smile. The memories of bonding with mom or dad as both of you picked up candy before heading to the movie theater (we all snuck candy in, right?). Or maybe it's the memory of getting your favorite Tootsie Pop flavor from your teacher after making a good grade on that pop quiz.
When it comes to tapping into these autobiographical memories, scientists say they are
typically linked to powerful and emotional memories. Marcel Proust, who first came up with the idea found taste and smell have stronger links to memories than any of the other senses.
Everyone remembers the feeling of those Tootsie pops - how we tried to count the licks, always losing track, and finally biting and feeling the hard candy cracking and getting to that chewy Tootsie center. The next time you get a taste of your favorite sweet, make sure to savor the trip down memory lane.
One thing we didn't have back then though? The power to share our Tootsie Pop memories with others. You do now.