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Chem Senses. 2006 Jul;31(6):531-8. Epub 2006 Apr 28.

Cross-modal associations between odors and colors.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3UD, UK.


In the present study, we investigated the nature of any cross-modal associations between colors and odors. In Experiment 1, we show that participants consistently match certain odors to specific colors when asked to explicitly select from among different colors the one that best matched a given odor. In Experiment 2, we investigated the robustness of these cross-modal associations using a cross-modal variant of the implicit association test (IAT). Participants made speeded discrimination responses to a random sequence of odors (strawberry vs. spearmint) and color patches (pink vs. turquoise). On the basis of the results of Experiment 1, the assignment of these targets onto the two response keys was manipulated in order to generate compatible (e.g., responding to the pink color and to the strawberry odor with the same response key) and incompatible (e.g., responding to the pink color and to the spearmint odor with the same response key) blocks of trials. The results showed that participants responded more rapidly and accurately to odor-color pairings having a stronger association than to those having a weaker (or no) association. These results suggest that odor-color associations can be both systematic and robust. The paradigm developed here provides a novel cross-modal extension of the IAT to probe the nature of color-odor associations.

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