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  • Jason Krause

Anchors Away Part I

Imagine you are on a boat. You have entered a bay following a full day of sailing and wish to stop for a meal to enjoy the view of the sun setting just beyond the skyline of a coastal town. You drop an anchor which digs deep into sand or nestles between rocks at the bottom, effectively mooring your boat to that point in the bay. With no concerns of being swept away from your anchored position, you can break out refreshment and share this perfect sunset with your guests.

Anchors have been used for millennia, with the first use dating back to the Bronze Age as the ancients worked to conquer oceans, seas and rivers. They were able to effectively fix their watercraft to a specific location through anchoring. Anchoring is so effective at affixing a boat to a specific point that it was adopted as the name to describe a process in human psychology which is far more ancient than the anchor itself.

Anchoring is the process of creating a strong association between an emotion and a sensory experience in memory development. Olfaction, or our sense of smell, is known to be keenly tied to memory, even playing a vital role in how powerful other senses, like taste, are received. Not only is olfaction the most linked sensory experience to memory, it is also known to be highly emotive which makes for strong anchoring associations. Take a moment to reflect on the memories evoked from the smell of cookies baking, or a freshly brewed cup of coffee, or a rose, or Thanksgiving dinner. Smells can generate strong emotions and are tied to memories which can be very particular to an individual.

While I do not smoke, my grandfather did. He enjoyed sitting outside and smoking his pipe. I frequently would sit next to him while he smoked, regaling me with his many stories and adventures. After he passed away, I grabbed a container which used to hold his piping tobacco. The memories which hit me upon opening that container were immediate and intense; if I had not known any better, I would have sworn that my grandfather was there, puffing away at his pipe between stories as I sat beside him, eagerly awaiting for him to continue. Though that container was currently empty, the smell of the remnants of its contents were enough to trigger a memory as pleasant and sweet as the smell emanating from within.

These associations can be intense and meaningful to us. They are also created without our conscious awareness. But given how pivotal a role they can play in our mood and how we react to them when present, it is easy to imagine how negative associations can limit our growth or keep us reliving experiences which are harmful rather than helpful.

In part two, we will discuss common ways in which associations can be created in our memory.


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