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Press Release, 20.03.2019



Feelings in the Nose

Smells are easier to combine with emotions than sounds

Sensory perceptions are often linked to emotions in memory. A research group from the Institute for Cognitive Neurosciences at the Ruhr University Bochum has now investigated whether some senses are more sensitive to this emotional conditioning than others. Their results are presented in the journal Chemosensory Perception.

For their experiment, the researchers use a principle that is also frequently used in advertising: evaluative conditioning. A neutral stimulus - such as a new butter brand - is simultaneously presented with a clearly positive stimulus. This could be, for example, the picture of a happy family at the Sunday breakfast. By showing the butter and the happy family together, the positive emotion is transferred to the butter. The same principle works with negative emotions.

In the study, participants were first presented neutral odours and sounds. Using a scale, they should indicate which emotions connect them with the sensory perception. The next day, the participants were presented with the same smells and sounds again; this time, however, in conjunction with neutral or negative images. Subsequently, they should again rate the smells and sounds by means of the scale.

It showed that the odours, which were presented together with a negative image, received a worse rating. The evaluation of the sounds, on the other hand, did not depend on the emotional evaluation of the images with which they were presented together. These findings confirmed the researchers' hypothesis that odours are more sensitive to emotional conditioning than sounds.

"The olfactory system - the part of the brain that processes odours - has a close connection to the parts of the brain where emotions are processed. That could explain our results, "said Anika Pützer, first author of the study.

The study was funded by the Collaborative Research Center 874 (SFB 874) of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The SFB 874 "Integration and Representation of Sensory Processes" exists since 2010 at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. The researchers addressed the question of how sensory signals generate neural maps, resulting in complex behaviour and memory formation.

Pützer A, Otto T, Wolf OT (2019) Odors Are More Sensitive to Evaluative Conditioning than Sounds. Chemosensory Perception (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s12078-018-09255-3

Link to the publication:

Prof. Dr Oliver T. Wolf
Fakultät für Psychologie
Arbeitseinheit Kognitionspsychologie
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Phone: +49 0234 32 22670

Text: Judith Merkelt-Jedamzik

Translation: Judith Merkelt-Jedamzik


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