Object concepts in the chemical senses

Richard J. Stevenson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the applicability of the object concept to the chemical senses, by evaluating them against a set of criteria for object-hood. Taste and chemesthesis do not generate objects. Their parts, perceptible from birth, never combine. Orthonasal olfaction (sniffing) presents a strong case for generating objects. Odorants have many parts yet they are perceived as wholes, this process is based on learning, and there is figure-ground segregation. While flavors are multimodal representations bound together by learning, there is no functional need for flavor objects in the mouth. Rather, food identification occurs prior to ingestion using the eye and nose, with the latter retrieving multimodal flavor objects via sniffing (e.g., sweet smelling caramel). While there are differences in object perception between vision, audition, and orthonasal olfaction, the commonalities suggest that the brain has adopted the same basic solution when faced with extracting meaning from complex stimulus arrays.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1360-1383
Number of pages24
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2014


  • Chemesthesis
  • Flavor
  • Gustation
  • Multisensory perception
  • Object
  • Object perception
  • Olfaction

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