Recent evidence suggests that olfactory stimuli can influence early stages of visual processing, but there has been little focus on whether such olfactory-visual interactions convey an advantage in visual object identification. Moreover, despite evidence that some aspects of olfactory perception are superior in females than males, no study to date has examined whether olfactory influences on vision are gender-dependent. We asked whether inhalation of familiar odorants can modulate participants’ ability to identify briefly flashed images of matching visual objects under conditions of object substitution masking (OSM). Across two experiments, we had male and female participants (N = 36 in each group) identify masked visual images of odour-related objects (e.g., orange, rose, mint) amongst nonodour-related distracters (e.g., box, watch). In each trial, participants inhaled a single odour that either matched or mismatched the masked, odour-related target. Target detection performance was analysed using a signal detection (d’) approach. In females, but not males, matching odours significantly reduced OSM relative to mismatching odours, suggesting that familiar odours can enhance the salience of briefly presented visual objects. We conclude that olfactory cues exert a subtle influence on visual processes by transiently enhancing the salience of matching object representations. The results add to a growing body of literature that points towards consistent gender differences in olfactory perception.
- multisensory processing
- visual perception