Labels and Smells (08-31-20)

Research completed by Cormiea and Fischer indicates that we think about odors differently when we know their names.  Cormiea and Fischer found that “learning the label seems to transform an odor – to snap its perceptual features into sharper focus. . . . sixteen unlabeled odors from common foods (e.g. onion, carrot, grapefruit, vanilla), [were] delivered in opaque squeeze bottles. Subjects sniffed the odors and then arranged the icons on the screen, placing icons for similar-smelling items close together. . . . In Session 2, participants performed the same task, but this time with labels on the bottles identifying the odors. In Session 3, participants performed the arrangement task based on labels alone. . . . the addition of labels in Session 2 altered the perceptual space in a reliable way. . . . we found improved discrimination in an odor mixture classification task with the application of labels . . . These results suggest a reliable olfactory perceptual space that is systematically remapped with the application of labels.”

Sarah Cormiea and Jason Fischer.  2020.  “Mapping and Remapping the Human Olfactory Perceptual Space.”  International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste, virtual meeting, August 3-7,