Ida's song welcomes new Swedes
With a hoisted flag, the Swedish national anthem, and the song 'Idas sommarvisa' (text: Astrid Lindgren, music: Georg Riedel), Speaker of the Swedish Riksdag Per Westerberg greeted all new Swedes early on Sweden’s National Day, during the annual flag hoisting ceremony. “Here today is gathered a lot of experience. It’s our joint responsibility to together seize your knowledge,” he said. Two of the new Swedes who participated in the ceremony were Kashif Shahzad and Ali Kazmi, both of whom moved to Sweden from Pakistan two years ago. Shahzad became a Swedish citizen last year: “I came here because I wanted to know what it’s like to be Swedish.”

Scents bring back childhood
Does our sense of smell play an important part of our early childhood memories? According to new Swedish research it does. Our sense of smell is developed early in life and is the only of our senses that has a direct connection to our “sensitivity center” in the brain. Most of us find it fairly easy to recreate sensory impression like images and sounds. These memories, or inner pictures, form a central part of the way we think, both when awake and asleep and dreaming. But imagining scents is a different story, it may be more difficult to do. However, scents can be visualized, just like images and sounds, and become a part of our memories and dreams. Artin Arshamian’s dissertation at the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University deals with memories that spontaneously are activated by scents. “If there are scents in the surroundings then they will be an important part in the early encoding of memories,” Arshamian explains, “since the sense of smell is developed very early.” Arshamian believes our sense of smell has long been a bit forgotten. “But now there’s exciting research about it,” he says. It was previously thought, that our sense of smell wasn’t as important to us as humans as vision and hearing. Arshamian says that’s simply not the case. “Our sense of smell is unique,” he says. “It’s the only sense that’s directly connected to the amygdala, the emotional center, of our brain. Evolutionary speaking it probably was of great importance, we could quickly, through our sense of smell, feel nausea or fear.” In one study, 40 persons, all of who were good at imagining scents and who had a habit of dreaming of scents, were tested. “When we put nose clips on them, which prevented them from touching their nostrils and sniffing during the time they imagined the scent of for instance a rose or a cigarette, the perceived scent became less clear.” Another study shows that people who have scent sensations in their dreams and who themselves feel that they are good at imagining odors also have a better ability to both name and remember real odors. Says Arshamian: “In general we humans find it difficult to identify and name scents, which has to do with language and sense of smell not quite fitting together. “ In a third study, which used brain images, the so-called Proust-memories were investigated (the name comes from the author Marcel Proust who in his epic novel “In Search of Lost Time” wrote an episode about how a Madeleine cookie dipped in tea brought on strong childhood memories). “There are many myths around these Proust memories,” explains Arshamian. “They are said to be more spontaneous, emotional and alive and they transport us back in time. We wanted to find out what these memories look like in the brain when they are being activated by scents, and we wanted to see what they looked like once they were kicked going by words.” The study showed that the Proust memories activated the brain areas that are active when we feel scents for real, not just the areas that are normally active in autobiographical memories – and even when there was no scent when the memory was brought to life. “This suggests that if you remember an episode from your life where a strong scent was experienced, the smell then, though now imagined, is a part of the memory itself.” So what practical benefits can come out of these findings? “Apart from giving us new knowledge about how our brain functions, as a parent we can feel encouraged to let our children try as many flavors and scents as possible. Perhaps it will give them more memories. We know that our sense of smell deteriorates as we grow older, and that you easily get depressed if you lose it. I would like to go on to study working memory for scents, how many scents we can keep in our short-term memory, and if it is possible to influence it.” Artin Arshamian’s dissertation is called “Olfactory cognition: The case of olfactory imagery”, Stockholm University, Department of Psychology.

Open Palace with Princess Estelle
Sweden’s National Day meant the Royal Palace opened its doors to the audience free of charge. This is called “Öppet Slott”. This year, Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Daniel, and Princess Estelle opened the doors to the palace at ten in the morning. In the inner courtyard, there were food and sales from Slottsboden, and staff from Hovstallet showed off a float and a Daimler from the 1950’s. There was also musical entertainment from Försvarsmusiken and Stockholms Studentsångare. But most importantly, there was a little princess running around in a Swedish folk costume.