Different forms of human odor memory: a developmental study

Neurosci Lett. 1999 Sep 3;272(1):17-20. doi: 10.1016/s0304-3940(99)00566-2.


Recognizing odors is an important biological function, both in the animal kingdom as well as for humans. It has been debated whether there exist different forms of human odor memory. For verbal memory, the concept of recollection and familiarity for conscious and unconscious recognition is widely accepted. Here we introduce a similar model for human odor memory. We use a combination of an odor naming and odor recognition memory task to estimate the relationship between depth of processing and retention of olfactory information. A developmental approach with children, young adults, middle aged adults and elderly subjects was chosen in order to study the influence of age. Our results indicate the existence of two separable forms of odor memory depending on whether the odors were correctly or incorrectly named during the naming task. These two forms of odor memory were differently represented across the human age range. Intact familiarity-based memory was found in all age groups, whereas memory based on recollection was impaired in the elderly and not yet fully developed in children. Our data show, for the first time, two different forms of human odor memory across the human life span.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Smell / physiology*