Nose-breathing boosts memory, study finds

Nasal inhalation may help us retain olfactory memories longer.

  • A new study confirms a suspected connection between the nose and memory.
  • Twenty-four subjects memorized 12 smells delivered through a nasal cannula during two training sessions.
  • The results of the experiments suggest we can consolidate memories by breathing through our nose.

Scientists have been intrigued for some time about the effect that breathing has on the brain, and Big Think has discussed this before. Now, a new study, published this month in The Journal of Neuroscience, nails down the link between breathing through one's nose — as opposed to one's mouth — and the robust storage of memories.

"The idea that breathing affects our behaviour is actually not new. In fact, the knowledge has been around for thousands of years in such areas as meditation," said Artin Arshamian, the lead author of the study, which took place at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet. "But no one has managed to prove scientifically what actually goes on in the brain. We now have tools that can reveal new clinical knowledge."

How the study tested the effect of nose-breathing on memory

Nasal cannula. Photo credit: S. Bonaime/Shutterstock

One stumbling block to understanding how breathing through the nose affects the brain is that scientists' typical subjects — mice and rats — don't breathe through their nose. Therefore, sniffing out the truth of the matter requires human subjects. And, appropriately enough, the experiments involved smells.

The study's 24 subjects memorized 12 smells delivered through a nasal cannula during two training sessions. Afterward, they were given an hour off during which they were instructed to breathe exclusively through either their mouths or noses.

This was followed by exposure to a variety of scents, some of which were from their training sessions and some of which were new. Subjects were asked to differentiate between the two.

What the scientists found was that those who'd breathed through their noses during their hour off were more likely to recognize the scents from training sessions, suggesting that their nose-breathing had more effectively stored what they'd learned.

Next steps

Easier research implicated receptors in the olfactory bulb that can detect both scents and variations in airflow. Scientists have also seen different areas of the brain exhibit activity during inhaling and exhaling, but how this all ties together is as of yet unknown.

Arshamain tells KI News:

"The next step is to measure what actually happens in the brain during breathing and how this is linked to memory. This was previously a practical impossibility as electrodes had to be inserted directly into the brain. We've managed to get round this problem and now we're developing, with my colleague Johan Lundström, a new means of measuring activity in the olfactory bulb and brain without having to insert electrodes."

Plants have awareness and intelligence, argue scientists

Research in plant neurobiology shows that plants have senses, intelligence and emotions.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The field of plant neurobiology studies the complex behavior of plants.
  • Plants were found to have 15-20 senses, including many like humans.
  • Some argue that plants may have awareness and intelligence, while detractors persist.
Keep reading Show less

Human extinction! Don't panic; think about it like a philosopher.

Most people think human extinction would be bad. These people aren't philosophers.

Shutterstock
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new opinion piece in The New York Times argues that humanity is so horrible to other forms of life that our extinction wouldn't be all that bad, morally speaking.
  • The author, Dr. Todd May, is a philosopher who is known for advising the writers of The Good Place.
  • The idea of human extinction is a big one, with lots of disagreement on its moral value.
Keep reading Show less

Space is dead: A challenge to the standard model of quantum mechanics

Since the idea of locality is dead, space itself may not be an aloof vacuum: Something welds things together, even at great distances.

Videos
  • Realists believe that there is an exactly understandable way the world is — one that describes processes independent of our intervention. Anti-realists, however, believe realism is too ambitious — too hard. They believe we pragmatically describe our interactions with nature — not truths that are independent of us.
  • In nature, properties of Particle B may be depend on what we choose to measure or manipulate with Particle A, even at great distances.
  • In quantum mechanics, there is no explanation for this. "It just comes out that way," says Smolin. Realists struggle with this because it would imply certain things can travel faster than light, which still seems improbable.
Keep reading Show less