Often times when I am stressed or need to be reminded of a happy experience to make me feel better, I often use images. Based off of an image I can remember a variety of information about what I was doing, sometimes what I was wearing, who I was with, how I felt, and usually this improves my mood. However, I love the moments when I am going about my day and because of a smell, sound, taste, or tactile experience, I am taken to another time and place and remember something. For example, allow me to play an audio clip. This is sound instantly reminds me of my grandpa’s bright red Ford pickup. I can remember the soft red interior, where there was always a roll, or part of a roll of Lifesaver mints-always spearmint but sometimes peppermint because both my grandparents would drive the truck. The live on a farm so there were many trips to elevators with wagons full of soybeans or corn hooked on to the back of the truck. Or, when it came time to do sweet corn, we fill the back of the truck up with corn then bring it back up to their house to shuck it and clean it. I remember the numerous times when I was able to ride in the back of the truck, which was had various tools that my grandpa would use and was a little dirty from the gravel dust and field dirt, but it was really fun getting to ride in the back of grandpa’s truck on a hot summer day partly because of the breeze, but also the noise that the truck makes. Another thing I enjoy remembering is how we could see the gravel dust and hear the truck coming.

Central idea:

Powerful and exciting memories can be relived when a familiar sound, scent, image, location, etc. causes a person to “travel back in time” and remember an experience.

Relate topic to audience:

Many people remember past experiences multiple times throughout the day. You may be sitting at your desk, listening to a professor talk and your mind drifts elsewhere and even possibly back to a memory. Or, you may hear a song that reminds you of high school or smell something that reminds you of Christmas. Also, I’m not sure if anyone can relate to the exact sound that I played, but I bet some image came to your mind as you heard the familiar sounds of keys jingeling and then being turned in the ignition.

Main points:

Memory is much more complicated than just a word used to describe the way we store past experiences. There are different types of memory and the type that stores memories of events and experiences over a long period of time is called episodic. Through sensory input, a sound, sight, scent, taste, or texture, we can recall a memory unintentionally. This experience is called the Proust effect and is what triggers involuntary autobiographical memories. These experiences can be intense and emotional and often have an impact on a person’s mood. While involuntary memories are enacted with PTSD and negative memories, they can bring up positive memories. Just the experience of suddenly reliving a positive event and then realizing what made you remember can be an exciting experience that lists your mood.


To start understanding this type of experience and the memory it stems from, it is helpful to define the other types of memory and briefly explain how memory works



  1. We encounter so many different sensory, emotional, and physical experiences and events throughout the day that to remember it all would be impossible.
    1. In order to store what is important and discard what is not, there are three basic types of memory are sensory, short term, and long term.
      1. Sensory memory last for less than a second.
      2. Short term memory, also known as working memory, lasts for less than a minute.
    2. Long term memory holds a variety of important information with or without our conscious acknowledgement of it. This information ranges from skills to life events.
      1. We are unconsciously able to remember skills that we need for everyday life without having to think about them in our implicit memory. We are able to use past experiences to remember things. For example, a professional musician has become so familiar with their instrument that they don’t have to think about how to accomplish basic tasks.
      2. The phrase “It’s like riding a bike, once you learn you never forget” is an example of how our procedural memory works. Procedural memory holds our motor skills.
    3. Within our explicit memory lies memories of facts, events, and experiences.
      1. We often have to think about these memories, which makes them part of retrospective memory, and from there, we can engage our semantic memory to remember something such as how many days are in the month of December.
      2. On the other hand, episodic memory is the area where our personal life events and experiences are stored and is the area that is affected by involuntary memory experiences.


  1. Involuntary memory experiences are when a person suddenly remembers or relives something from their past without thinking about it.
    1. In contrast, a voluntary memory experience would occur when if someone asked me to tell them something specific.
      1. Often times, involuntary memories occur when a person is daydreaming, spacing out, and just lets their mind wander. This was discovered and repeatedly confirmed by Dorthe Berntsen, a psychologist who has done many studies on autobiographical memories.
      2. They can also be triggered by a sensory input.
    2. The Proust effect, named for Marcel Proust, is “the vivid reliving of events from the past through sensory stimuli.” The Proust Effect by Cretien van Campen
      1. One day, while Proust was relaxing and eating a madeleine cake dipped in tea, he was suddenly overcome by pleasant memoires of his childhood. The taste the cake reminded him so strongly of the madeleines he ate as a child with his aunt Leonie. Due to the amount of studies and research that he did on memory and sensory triggers, this phenomenon was named after him.
      2. Any of the senses can contribute to the Proust effect, as different senses may be evoke stronger memories for one person than another. While Proust had seen madeleines, the taste of the cake, rather than the sight or smell, was what evoked such an enormous response.
  • When a person is experiencing this, they are not just remembering the memory but are experiencing it in high quality, causing it to feel like they “travel back in time”. In addition, usually mood is influenced based on the emotional content of the memory. (quote by Esther Salaman)
  1. Due to the nature of involuntary memories, sometimes called intrusive memories, they are enacted in PTSD.
    1. However, involuntary memories can be used to bring back positive memories at unexpected times.
    2. Studies have shown that positive involuntary memories occur more often than negative. (Thompson, Skowronski, Larsen, & Betz, 1996)
  • Utilizing this type of memory to its full potential, it can be fun and exciting to realize when a memory has been brought back up because of a trigger. Reliving positive memories can not only remind us of fun times but show how the past has shaped, why we are interested in certain things, and why we are the way we are.



  1. Due to the stories that memories can hold, the positive effects, and excitement of memories, I propose to create a reflective experience engaging the five senses to evoke different memories within different visitors.
    1. By focusing on evoking positive memories, hopefully the audience will be able to recall memories.
    2. Creating a space where people can relax is key to helping memories come naturally.
      1. As stated earlier, word cues result in voluntary memory recall.
      2. In addition, making a person feel pressured is only going to stress them out and possibly resort to voluntary memory recall so they can say they remembered something.
    3. Ultimately, this space should be neutral yet inviting, in order to help people relax, slow down, let their mind drift away from whatever they have going on, and remember.
      1. Personally, I have a hard time trying to get my mind to calm down and stop thinking about work when I have so much.
      2. However, when I am able to and I let my mind wander or I listen to a song, look at some photos, it is very relaxing and I almost feel rejuvenated after I have remembered some fun times.


  1. Conclusion (in the works)
    1. Powerful and exciting memories can be relived when a familiar sound, scent, image, location, etc. causes a person to “travel back in time” and remember an experience.