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Concept: Olfactory fatigue


Alexithymia is a psychological construct characterized by deficits in processing emotional stimuli. However, little is known about the processing of odours in alexithymia, even though there is extensive proof that emotion and olfaction are closely linked. The present study is aimed at investigating how alexithymic individuals process emotions conveyed by odors. Emotional responses to unpleasant, neutral odors and clean air were collected through self-report ratings and psychophysiological measures in a sample of 62 healthy participants with high (HA), medium (MA) and low (LA) levels of alexithymia. Moreover, participants performed tests on odors identification and threshold and completed questionnaires assessing olfactory imagery and awareness. Two main results have been found: first, HA and MA groups showed altered physiological responses to odors, compared to LA, while no differences among the groups were observed in odor ratings; and second, affective and cognitive alexithymia components were differently associated with the performance on olfactory tests, skin conductance response to odors, reaction times in the rating task, and scores on olfactory questionnaires. We conclude that alexithymia is characterized by altered physiological reactions to olfactory stimuli; moreover, we stress the importance of evaluating the different alexithymia components since they affect emotional stimuli processing in different ways.

Concepts: Psychology, Affect, Olfaction, Odor, Emotion, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer


Patients with olfactory dysfunction benefit from repeated exposure to odors, so-called olfactory training (OT). This does not mean occasional smelling but the structured sniffing of a defined set of odors, twice daily, for a period of 4 months or longer. In this prospective study, we investigated whether the effect of OT might increase through the use of more odors and extension of the training period.

Concepts: Extensional definition, Olfaction, Odor, Ovulation, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer, Intensional definition


Humans can identify visual objects independently of view angle and lighting, words independently of volume and pitch, and smells independently of concentration. The computational principles underlying invariant object recognition remain mostly unknown. Here we propose that, in olfaction, a small and relatively stable set comprised of the earliest activated receptors forms a code for concentration-invariant odor identity. One prediction of this “primacy coding” scheme is that decisions based on odor identity can be made solely using early odor-evoked neural activity. Using an optogenetic masking paradigm, we define the sensory integration time necessary for odor identification and demonstrate that animals can use information occurring <100 ms after inhalation onset to identify odors. Using multi-electrode array recordings of odor responses in the olfactory bulb, we find that concentration-invariant units respond earliest and at latencies that are within this behaviorally-defined time window. We propose a computational model demonstrating how such a code can be read by neural circuits of the olfactory system.

Concepts: Brain, Olfactory bulb, Olfactory receptor neuron, Olfaction, Olfactory nerve, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose


Pollinators use their sense of smell to locate flowers from long distances, but little is known about how they are able to discriminate their target odor from a mélange of other natural and anthropogenic odors. Here, we measured the plume from Datura wrightii flowers, a nectar resource for Manduca sexta moths, and show that the scent was dynamic and rapidly embedded among background odors. The moth’s ability to track the odor was dependent on the background and odor frequency. By influencing the balance of excitation and inhibition in the antennal lobe, background odors altered the neuronal representation of the target odor and the ability of the moth to track the plume. These results show that the mix of odors present in the environment influences the pollinator’s olfactory ability.

Concepts: Sense, Olfaction, Pollination, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer, Smell


Based on the logic of mutual competition between cravings and odours for limited-capacity resources, this study investigated whether a simple olfactory task, involving a brief odour exposure, could reduce food cravings. In support, Experiment 1 showed that smelling a neutral unfamiliar odorant reduced cravings for highly desired food items, relative to a comparison auditory task and a no-task control condition. Experiment 2 replicated these findings specifically for chocolate cravings, which can be particularly problematic. Thus olfactory stimulation offers potential scope for curbing unwanted food cravings.

Concepts: Olfaction, Odor, Flavor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer, Aroma compound, Body odor


BACKGROUND: Human perception of the odour environment is highly variable. People vary both in their general olfactory acuity as well as in if and how they perceive specific odours. In recent years, it has been shown that genetic differences contribute to variability in both general olfactory acuity and the perception of specific odours. In addition, odour perception also depends on other factors such as age and gender. Here we investigate the influence of these factors on both general olfactory acuity and on the perception of 66 structurally and perceptually different odours in a diverse subject population. RESULTS: We carried out a large human olfactory psychophysics study of 391 adult subjects in metropolitan New York City, an ethnically and culturally diverse North American metropolis. 210 of the subjects were women and the median age was 34.6 years (range 19–75). We recorded ~2,300 data points per subject to obtain a comprehensive perceptual phenotype, comprising multiple perceptual measures of 66 diverse odours. We show that general olfactory acuity correlates with gender, age, race, smoking habits, and body type. Young, female, non-smoking subjects had the highest average olfactory acuity. Deviations from normal body type in either direction were associated with decreased olfactory acuity. Beyond these factors we also show that, surprisingly, there are many odour-specific influences of race, age, and gender on olfactory perception. We show over 100 instances in which the intensity or pleasantness perception of an odour is significantly different between two demographic groups. CONCLUSIONS: These data provide a comprehensive snapshot of the olfactory sense of a diverse population. Olfactory acuity in the population is most strongly influenced by age, followed by gender. We also show a large number of diverse correlations between demographic factors and the perception of individual odours that may reflect different prior experiences with these odours between demographic groups.

Concepts: Demography, Perception, Sense, Olfaction, Demographics, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose


Context. Clinical toxicologists perform risk assessments and clinical evaluations for patients with potential exposure to airborne toxicants in which the patient’s self-reported perception of odor may be the only indicator that an exposure may have taken place. Objective. To review the factors that may affect the human ability to perceive chemical odors and relate those odors to specific chemical exposures. Methods. The medical literature, from 1950 through 2012, was searched using the OVID database and the PUBMED database. The searches returned 238 articles, of which 113 involved human studies and were published in the English language. Of these 113 articles, 40 articles discussed odor issues and thus were chosen as specifically relevant to the topic. Bibliographies of all articles were also searched for other relevant references and this found six additional articles, making a total of 46. Factors that may affect olfaction and the ability to perceive odor. Genetic/population. Ethnic background is associated with widely differing odor detection abilities and thresholds. A significant genetic influence for the ability to smell and perceive odor has been reported. Gender. Women are superior to men in their ability to identify odors. Age. Increasing age is correlated with higher odor detection thresholds. Medical conditions. A variety of medical conditions have been associated with deficits in olfaction, including diseases of the nose and sinuses, multiple sclerosis, and schizophrenia. Alcoholism and smoking. Abuse of alcohol results in impaired olfactory sense, and smoking tobacco products alters odor detection threshold in a dose-related manner. Occupational and environmental factors. Repeated inhalation of any chemical results in olfactory fatigue over relatively short time frames that leads to a decreased ability to accurately detect and identify an odor. Recent exposure to relatively high concentrations of a chemical has been shown to affect sensitivity to that particular odorant, altering subsequent detection thresholds by up to three orders of magnitude. Applicability of proposed odor thresholds. Humans are only able to identify three to four components of complex olfactory mixtures and the odorants present in the mixture affect which individual components are detected. Odorants present in suprathreshold concentrations in a mixture may effectively mask the presence of odorants present in perithreshold concentrations. Self-rating of olfactory function may not correlate with actual olfactory ability. It is even more difficult to accurately determine intensity of an odor in a quantifiable way. For example, under conditions of constant stimulation with hydrogen sulfide, perceptual intensity was reported to decrease exponentially with time of stimulation. Concomitant visual stimulation also affects odor intensity. Some chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, may induce reactions in humans related solely to their odor, even when they are present in concentrations substantially lower than those levels usually associated with the development of adverse clinical effects. There is a wealth of literature suggesting that the intensity of perceived odor, the degree of irritation, and the reported health effects of exposure to an odorant chemical are affected by psychological state and bias. Multiple theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive basis for perceived illness in association with the perception of odor. The concept of odor has been reported to be intrinsically and cognitively associated with illness rather than with health. Assigning negative bias to an odor prior to an exposure results in the reporting of significantly more health-related symptoms following exposure. This suggests that those symptoms are not mediated by the odor directly, but rather by an individual’s cognitive associations between odor and health. Conclusions. Attempts to verify exposure intensity based on the report of a perceived odor is unreliable and has no useful application in legitimate exposure assessment paradigms. Detection of an odor does not imply a medically significant exposure to a toxicant and, due to subject bias and the difficulty of detecting individual odorants in mixtures, may not constitute an exposure to the purported substance.

Concepts: Perception, Sense, Olfaction, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Olfactometer, Aroma compound, Odor detection threshold


Understanding dogs' perceptual experience of both conspecifics and humans is important to understand how dogs evolved and the nature of their relationships with humans and other dogs. Olfaction is believed to be dogs' most powerful and perhaps important sense and an obvious place to begin for the study of social cognition of conspecifics and humans. We used fMRI in a cohort of dogs (N=12) that had been trained to remain motionless while unsedated and unrestrained in the MRI. By presenting scents from humans and conspecifics, we aimed to identify the dimensions of dogs' responses to salient biological odors-whether they are based on species (dog or human), familiarity, or a specific combination of factors. We focused our analysis on the dog’s caudate nucleus because of its well-known association with positive expectations and because of its clearly defined anatomical location. We hypothesized that if dogs' primary association to reward, whether it is based on food or social bonds, is to humans, then the human scents would activate the caudate more than the conspecific scents. Conversely, if the smell of conspecifics activated the caudate more than the smell of humans, dogs' association to reward would be stronger to their fellow canines. Five scents were presented (self, familiar human, strange human, familiar dog, strange dog). While the olfactory bulb/peduncle was activated to a similar degree by all the scents, the caudate was activated maximally to the familiar human. Importantly, the scent of the familiar human was not the handler, meaning that the caudate response differentiated the scent in the absence of the person being present. The caudate activation suggested that not only did the dogs discriminate that scent from the others, they had a positive association with it. This speaks to the power of the dog’s sense of smell, and it provides important clues about the importance of humans in dogs' lives.

Concepts: Sense, Olfaction, Primate, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer, Smell


It is well known that feelings of happiness transfer between individuals through mimicry induced by vision and hearing. The evidence is inconclusive, however, as to whether happiness can be communicated through the sense of smell via chemosignals. As chemosignals are a known medium for transferring negative emotions from a sender to a receiver, we examined whether chemosignals are also involved in the transmission of positive emotions. Positive emotions are important for overall well-being and yet relatively neglected in research on chemosignaling, arguably because of the stronger survival benefits linked with negative emotions. We observed that exposure to body odor collected from senders of chemosignals in a happy state induced a facial expression and perceptual-processing style indicative of happiness in the receivers of those signals. Our findings suggest that not only negative affect but also a positive state (happiness) can be transferred by means of odors.

Concepts: Affect, Olfaction, Odor, Emotion, Feeling, Olfactory fatigue, Smell, Body odor


The smell of marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) is of interest to users, growers, plant breeders, law enforcement and, increasingly, to state-licensed retail businesses. The numerous varieties and strains of Cannabis produce strikingly different scents but to date there have been few, if any, attempts to quantify these olfactory profiles directly. Using standard sensory evaluation techniques with untrained consumers we have validated a preliminary olfactory lexicon for dried cannabis flower, and characterized the aroma profile of eleven strains sold in the legal recreational market in Colorado. We show that consumers perceive differences among strains, that the strains form distinct clusters based on odor similarity, and that strain aroma profiles are linked to perceptions of potency, price, and smoking interest.

Concepts: Sense, Olfaction, Odor, Cannabis, Olfactory fatigue, Smell, Cannabis sativa