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What’s so special about Proust Phenomenon? A mixed-method investigation of autobiographical memory cued by odour and image

Passam, Saffron (2012) What’s so special about Proust Phenomenon? A mixed-method investigation of autobiographical memory cued by odour and image. University of Aberystwyth.

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Abstract

This study compared memories evoked by olfactory and visual stimuli. It was hypothesised that autobiographical memory cued by odour would be experienced differently to those cued by image. Such findings would provide support for the idiosyncratic nature of Proust Phenomenon, and furthermore how autobiographical-memory may operate within separate-memory-functions. The experiment utilised a mixed-methods design using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods. This enabled statistical analysis of memory characteristics whilst also enabling exploration of rich memory descriptions. 26 participants took part in a between-subjects design with two conditions. Participants were exposed to either twelve odours or twelve images and asked to describe and rate memories using Likert scales. The results demonstrated no significant difference in the emotion, evocativeness, vividness, age or frequency across odour and image cued memories. However thematic analysis yielded three main themes unique to olfactory memory; rich place detail, bonded relationships and strong emotion. This suggests that memories evoked by odour have distinctive qualities supporting the notion of Proust Phenomenon.

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