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Physiol Behav. 1990 Nov;48(5):719-25.

Thresholds for odor and nasal pungency.

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John B. Pierce Foundation Laboratory, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06519.


Detection thresholds were measured repeatedly for 11 chemicals in normosmic and anosmic subjects. The stimuli comprised the first eight members of the series of n-aliphatic alcohols, phenyl ethyl alcohol, pyridine, and menthol. Results showed that anosmics could detect, via pungency, all but phenyl ethyl alcohol reliably. In the aliphatic series, both odor and pungency thresholds declined with chain length in a way that implied dependence of both in part on phase distribution in the mucosa. Odor thresholds, however, declined more rapidly than pungency thresholds: the ratio of anosmics threshold/normosmics threshold increased from 23 for methanol to 10,000 for 1-octanol. The outcome of a scaling experiment employing normosmic subjects indicated that, with the exception of methanol and ethanol, pungency arose when perceived intensity reached a narrowly tuned criterion level. When thresholds were expressed as percentages of saturated vapor, an index of thermodynamic activity, thereby accounting for differences in solubility and in phase distribution in the mucosa among the various stimuli, both odor and pungency thresholds depicted a striking constancy across stimuli.

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