Smelling what was there

Acquired olfactory percepts are resistant to further modification

Richard J. Stevenson*, Trevor I. Case, Robert A. Boakes

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Repeated exposure to a mixture of two odors can increase their perceived similarity to each other when presented separately. Experiment 1 failed to detect any reduction of this effect by an interference treatment consisting of separate exposures to the odors after they had first been presented as a mixture. Exposure to a mixture also results in participants mistakenly rating this mixture and its elements as having occurred with equal frequency (i.e., confusing the mixture and its elements). The interference treatment did not affect this either, whereas it did change judgments about the frequency of a color-odor mixture and its elements. The greater resistance to interference of odor-odor learning compared to color-odor learning may result from configural encoding of odor-odor mixtures. Experiment 2 found that separate exposures to two odors not previously mixed decreased their perceived similarity. This result was inconsistent with the possibility that the interference treatment in Experiment 1 had tended to increase the similarity of the two odors, for example, by a process of sensory adaptation. Rather it suggested a process akin to acquired distinctiveness.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)185-202
    Number of pages18
    JournalLearning and Motivation
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - May 2003

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