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Chem Senses. 2006 Oct;31(8):705-11. Epub 2006 Jul 14.

Olfactory event-related potentials reflect individual differences in odor valence perception.

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  • 1Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.


Investigating the neural substrates of perceived quality in olfaction using different odorants is intrinsically difficult. By utilizing individual differences in perceived quality of the odor of androstenone, we obtained a continuum of individual differences in rated valence of the same stimulus allowing investigations of its manifestation in the olfactory event-related potentials (ERPs). In an initial group consisting of 43 individuals that were screened for their verbal descriptors and sensitivity for the odor of androstenone, 22 normosmic volunteers were chosen forming 2 distinct groups with regard to verbal labels ("body odor" and "nonbody odor") for androstenone while maintaining chemical structure, concentration, and intensity constant. In the main experiment, these participants rated both intensity and pleasantness of androstenone during the recording of olfactory ERPs. There was a significant difference in rated valence between the groups but not in intensity. Participants in the body odor label group had larger amplitudes of the late positive ERP component than those in the nonbody odor label group. A negative correlation between valence and amplitudes of the late positive component for androstenone indicated that these differences were mediated by the difference in odor valence between the 2 groups. This was further supported by a comparison of ERP peaks in response to stimulation with androstenone and the invariably unpleasant hydrogen sulfide that had been used as a control. Altogether, the results suggest that the late positive component reflects the processing of odor valence. Future olfactory studies with the aim of assessing the dimension of pleasantness would benefit from the use of these interindividual differences in the perception of a specific odor.

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