Phenomenal and access consciousness in olfaction

Richard J. Stevenson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

46 Citations (Scopus)


Contemporary literature on consciousness, with some exceptions, rarely considers the olfactory system. In this article the characteristics of olfactory consciousness, viewed from the standpoint of the phenomenal (P)/access (A) distinction, are examined relative to the major senses. The review details several qualitative differences in both olfactory P consciousness (shifts in the felt location, universal synesthesia-like and affect-rich experiences, and misperceptions) and A consciousness (recovery from habituation, capacity for conscious processing, access to semantic and episodic memory, learning, attention, and in the serial-unitary nature of olfactory percepts). The basis for these differences is argued to arise from the functions that the olfactory system performs and from the unique neural architecture needed to instantiate them. These data suggest, at a minimum, that P and A consciousness are uniquely configured in olfaction and an argument can be made that the P and A distinction may not hold for this sensory system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1004-1017
Number of pages14
JournalConsciousness and cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

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