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Depressed? Sniff your way to happier thoughts

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If you’re suffering from depression, perhaps you can sniff your way to happier thoughts.

Using a scent that helps depressed remember better and recall happier times could be an untapped way to ease depression, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh are suggesting.

Familiar scents work better than words to help people recall a specific event, and so the therapy could also be used to help a depressed person break negative thought cycles and even ‘rewire’ thought patterns.

The work is being pioneered by Kymberly Young, a neuroscience researcher who has been working on the idea that engaging the amygdala, the reptilian part of the brain that directs attention and focus, helps people recall memories.  

From that, she discovered that specific smells hope people recall autobiographical memories and make them more vivid and real.  

She has tested the theory on a group of volunteers who were given glass vials that contained familiar scents from oranges and ground coffee to shoe polish and even Vicks VapoRub.  Those in the group who were depressed were able to recall specific memories after they had smelled an odour that was meaningful to them.

“If we improve memory, we can improve problem solving, emotion regulation and other functional problems that depressed people often experience,” she said.

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JAMA Network Open, 2024; 7: e2355958
Article Topics: depressed, Mental health
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