As I was walking home the other night, a song I hadn’t heard in a while came on: “All I can do” by Chantal Kreviazuk. I don’t know many of her hits, but this one caught my attention: solid lower keyed piano, a heart pouring voice, lyrics that describe confusion, fear and uncertainty – all lit up by her inspiring advice (Thanks Chantal!). In that song we can hear that “the uniform don’t make you brave” which always gets me thinking about the war, soldiers and the famous gear they wore. All of them, no matter their status, demonstrated bravery, the purest of it. The uniform is meant to protect the solider while at the same time, represent their pride, their united front and their strength. The colors of the uniform are consequently strongly associated to bravery, honor and respect. I couldn't help but wonder: is that what some of us are trying to channel if we dress up as a soldier for Halloween? Associations are very powerful things and many of us underestimate the role that our childhood memories have on our current adult behaviour. I am curious to investigate the associations behind our playful Halloween choices. Exactly what are we spending our money on? fabric? material? makeup? The pop psychologist in me says no, I believe it is more than that. We are "investing" in a night of exploring what we are not, what we would like to be or anything we feel like expressing.
The creation of associations
Just like visual triggers (the soldier's uniform, the color pink now associated to breast cancer, etc.), olfactory triggers are just as strong if not the strongest of triggers. Scents are like a time or travel machine. They can take us back to memories in seconds, influence our mood and even our work performance. I smell clementine and it takes me to Christmas time. I see the lights, the tree, the presence of family. The scent of brioche takes me to a piazza in Florence: I can almost feel the uneven stones under my feet and hear the cathedral bells. The scent fresh of laundry and poof! I see my mother folding towels on a Saturday afternoon. How come olfactory triggers are so powerful? Here's a great and concise explanation of the workings behind smell and memory:
"The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory"
A small anecdote: One particular smell that takes me instantly to a good place is the wonderful yet simple scent of toast. To me, there is noting more heart warming and comforting. It reminds me of my youth and all the summers I spent with my grandma; she would make us breakfast and the smell of toast is the first thing I noticed when my father dropped us off at her house. There she was in her kitchen with her famous apron and a table with two plates, little glasses of milk, butter and a jar of jam. She made us start the day with full tummies and full hearts. Consequently I get this warm glow when I smell something as simple as roasted bread. That being said, it is fair to conclude that a memory and its association to an olfactory or visual trigger will affect our thoughts and/or behavior, depending on if the memory is a positive of negative one.
Ever been sick after eating a particular meal? Chances are, you associated that meal to the illness. One tiny sniff of that food and you almost simultaneously are sharply reminded of the physical symptoms and the psychological aspects of it, which leads you to avoiding this meal for a while, if not for good. This aversion reaction dates back to our ancestors who developed this mechanism to make sure they avoided poisonous foods and stayed alive since there weren't things like pepto bismol or a hospital to go to. It is, of course, possible to undo these associations but it takes mental preperation and multiple trials to recreate a positive association with it.
Can we then also conclude that those who celebtrate Halloween have positive memories associated to the act of dressing up, the costumes they pick, pranking people or giving out candy? I definitely think so! and if not, they are looking to create positive memories associated to Halloween!
Honor, creativity, humor and fantasy
Nowadays, the adult consumers are spending more money on a holiday that used to merely target kids. The Halloween market has responded and is now reinforcing this larger crowd by offering costumes and creative ideas of all kinds and for almost anything that walks: dogs, cats, ferrets, whatever!
On the one hand, a costume can have a strong link with the individual's personality, especially if the person chooses something that he or she admires or always wanted to be/experience (ex: that solider uniform, a ballerina, etc). On the other hand, it can also demonstrate the person's "dark side" (or dark passenger in Dexter's words), thus revealing a little of their imaginary dreamland since all is permitted! In comparison to the other 364 days or the year, Halloween night allows us to become whatever we wish! A dancer, a psycho killer, a zombie, who cares? anything goes. This holiday truly is the ultimate "express yourself" day. We can play around with the different associations we have with the chosen character or...thing, we dress up as.
Celebrities, movies and ongoing political fiascos are often a source of inspiration. For example, I have a feeling that a certain wrecking ball and a "twerking" Miley Cyrus will be all the rage this year... Then there are costume choices that allow the individuals to express their conceptual and crafting skills. Costumes in general are great conversations starters, especially the humoristic ones, and allow for even the most introverts to have an armor as an extra asset to engage in conversation.
No matter the costume, there is an association of some kind behind it, I dare you find out what they are...
Have a great halloween!
P.S. Here is a little video of my favorite cookies to bake in the year:
pumpkies (pumpkin cookies!), email me if you want a copy of the recipe!
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
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