Using response consistency to probe olfactory knowledge

Richard J. Stevenson*, Mehmet K. Mahmut

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Although we know much about familiar faces or objects that we temporarily cannot name, what do we know about familiar odors that we cannot name? Two experiments here examined this issue, by comparing the reliability of responses to various questions using 2 tests, with odors that were consistently named or given similar or very different names on each test occasion. Reliability estimates for various types of questions were then compared against each other and with a random baseline control, which reflected response consistency among the different odors on each test occasion. Experiment 1 probed response consistency for the core olfactory attributes-familiarity, edibility, and intensity-and for the components of the semantic differential (liking, activity, and potency). Experiment 2 probed response consistency for these latter items, as well as conceptual questions relating to the odors' source (e.g., solid or liquid?) and its similarity to other odors (e.g., how fruity?). In both experiments, when an odor was named very differently on each test occasion, the only response to remain consistent was "liking." We suggest that liking reflects the most basic form of information conveyed by the olfactory system.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)237-249
    Number of pages13
    JournalChemical Senses
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


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