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Concept: Smell


How the smell of alcohol impacts alcohol-related thoughts and behaviours is unclear, though it is well-documented that alcohol-related stimuli and environments may trigger these.

Concepts: Psychology, Olfaction, Odor, Smell


The scent of another person can activate memories, trigger emotions, and spark romantic attraction; however, almost nothing is known about whether and how human scents influence responses to stress. In the current study, 96 women were randomly assigned to smell one of three scents (their romantic partner’s, a stranger’s, or a neutral scent) and exposed to an acute stressor (Trier Social Stress Test). Perceived stress and cortisol were measured continuously throughout the study (5 and 7 times, respectively). Perceived stress was reduced in women who were exposed to their partner’s scent. This reduction was observed during stress anticipation and stress recovery. Cortisol levels were elevated in women who were exposed to a stranger’s scent. This elevation was observed throughout stress anticipation, peak stress, and stress recovery. The current work speaks to the critical role of human olfactory cues in social communication and reveals that social scents can impact both psychological and physiological reactions to stress. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Olfaction, Odor, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Olfactometer, Smell


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


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


The ability to detect conspecifics that represent a potential harm for an individual represents a high survival benefit. Humans communicate socially relevant information using all sensory modalities, including the chemosensory systems. In study 1, we investigated whether the body odor of a stranger with the intention to harm serves as a chemosignal of aggression. Sixteen healthy male participants donated their body odor while engaging in a boxing session characterized by aggression-induction methods (chemosignal of aggression) and while performing an ergometer session (exercise chemosignal). Self-reports on aggression-related physical activity, motivation to harm and angry emotions selectively increased after aggression induction. In study 2, we examined whether receivers smelling such chemosignals experience emotional contagion (e.g., anger) or emotional reciprocity (e.g., anxiety). The aggression and exercise chemosignals were therefore presented to 22 healthy normosmic participants in a double-blind, randomized exposure during which affective/cognitive processing was examined (i.e., emotion recognition task, emotional stroop task). Behavioral results indicate that chemosignals of aggression induce an affective/cognitive modulation compatible with an anxiety reaction in the recipients. These findings are discussed in light of mechanisms of emotional reciprocity as a way to convey not only affective but also motivational information via chemosensory signals in humans.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Olfaction, Odor, Emotion, Affect display, Anger, Smell


Several studies have shown that a woman’s vaginal or axillary odors convey information on her attractivity. Yet, whether such scents induce psychoneuroendocrinological changes in perceivers is still controversial. We studied if smelling axillary and vulvar odors collected in the periovulatory and late luteal phases of young women modify salivary testosterone and cortisol levels, as well as sexual desire in men. Forty-five women and 115 men, all of them college students and unacquainted with each other, participated in the study. Female odors were collected on pads affixed to the axilla and on panty protectors both worn the entire night before experiments. Men provided five saliva samples, a basal one before the smelling procedure, and four more 15, 30, 60, and 75 min after exposure to odors. Immediately after smelling the odor source, men answered a questionnaire rating hedonic qualities of scents, and after providing the last saliva sample they answered questionnaire on sexual desire. We found that periovulatory axillary and vulvar odors increased testosterone and cortisol levels, with vulvar scents producing a more prolonged effect. Luteal axilla odors decreased testosterone and cortisol levels, while luteal vulva odors increased cortisol. Periovulatory axilla and vulva scents accounted for a general increase of interest in sex. These odors were also rated as more pleasant and familiar, while luteal vulvar odors were perceived as intense and unpleasant.

Concepts: Estrogen, Olfaction, Odor, Woman, Vagina, Olfactory fatigue, Electronic nose, Smell


There is extensive evidence that social identities can shape people’s attitudes and behavior, but what about sensory judgments? We examined the possibility that social identity concerns may also shape the judgment of non-social properties-namely, olfactory judgment. In two experiments, we presented Swiss and non-Swiss participants with the odor of chocolate, for which Switzerland is world-famous, and a control odor (popcorn). Swiss participants primed with Swiss identity reported the odor of chocolate (but not popcorn) as more intense than non-Swiss participants (Experiments 1 and 2) and than Swiss participants primed with individual identity or not primed (Experiment 2). The self-reported intensity of chocolate smell tended to increase as identity accessibility increased-but only among Swiss participants (Experiment 1). These results suggest that identity priming can counter-act classic sensory habituation effects, allowing identity-relevant smells to maintain their intensity after repeated presentations. This suggests that social identity dynamically influences sensory judgment. We discuss the potential implications for models of social identity and chemosensory perception.

Concepts: Sense, Experiment, Olfaction, Switzerland, Odor, Social psychology, Judgment, Smell


From Plato to Pinker there has been the common belief that the experience of a smell is impossible to put into words. Decades of studies have confirmed this observation. But the studies to date have focused on participants from urbanized Western societies. Cross-cultural research suggests that there may be other cultures where odors play a larger role. The Jahai of the Malay Peninsula are one such group. We tested whether Jahai speakers could name smells as easily as colors in comparison to a matched English group. Using a free naming task we show on three different measures that Jahai speakers find it as easy to name odors as colors, whereas English speakers struggle with odor naming. Our findings show that the long-held assumption that people are bad at naming smells is not universally true. Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language.

Concepts: Olfaction, Odor, Singapore, Smell