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Health Psychol. 1999 Nov;18(6):579-90.

Cognitive influences on health symptoms from acute chemical exposure.

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Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


Symptom reports, perceived adverse health effects, and public health concerns are increasingly precipitated by the perception of chemical odors. This study examined the interaction between health cognitions, odor perception, and symptom reports. A group of 180 healthy men and women were exposed to 1 of 3 ambient odors, normatively rated as healthful (methyl salicylate, or wintergreen), harmful (butanol or alcohol), and ambiguous (isobomyl acetate, or balsam), after receiving 1 of 3 odorant characterizations (harmful, healthful, and neutral). Individuals given a harmful bias reported significantly more health symptoms following exposure and more intense odor and irritation during exposure than did those given a neutral or healthful bias. The overall pattern of results suggests that many of the health-related effects of exposure to odorants are mediated not by a direct agency of odors but by cognitive variables, such as mental models of the relationship between environmental odors and health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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