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J Neurosci. 2007 Sep 12;27(37):10015-23.

Predicting odor pleasantness from odorant structure: pleasantness as a reflection of the physical world.

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Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Although it is agreed that physicochemical features of molecules determine their perceived odor, the rules governing this relationship remain unknown. A significant obstacle to such understanding is the high dimensionality of features describing both percepts and molecules. We applied a statistical method to reduce dimensionality in both odor percepts and physicochemical descriptors for a large set of molecules. We found that the primary axis of perception was odor pleasantness, and critically, that the primary axis of physicochemical properties reflected the primary axis of olfactory perception. This allowed us to predict the pleasantness of novel molecules by their physicochemical properties alone. Olfactory perception is strongly shaped by experience and learning. However, our findings suggest that olfactory pleasantness is also partially innate, corresponding to a natural axis of maximal discriminability among biologically relevant molecules.

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