A Mnemonic Theory of Odor Perception

Richard J. Stevenson*, Robert A. Boakes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

98 Citations (Scopus)


The psychological basis of odor quality is poorly understood. For pragmatic reasons, descriptions of odor quality generally rely on profiling odors in terms of what odorants they bring to mind. It is argued here that this reliance on profiling reflects a basic property of odor perception, namely that odor quality depends on the implicit memories that an odorant elicits. This is supported by evidence indicating that odor quality as well as one's ability to discriminate odors is affected by experience. Developmental studies and cross-cultural research also point to this conclusion. In this article, these findings are reviewed and a model that attempts to account for them is proposed. Finally, the model's consistency with both neurophysiological and neuropsychological data is examined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-364
Number of pages25
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2003

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