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Chem Senses. 1998 Feb;23(1):31-8.

Differences in perception of everyday odors: a Japanese-German cross-cultural study.

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Institute of Psychology, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.


There is a growing appreciation that experience with odors may strongly influence their perception. To further investigate this, the responses of 40 Japanese and 44 age-matched German women to everyday odorants were compared. Subjects were presented with 18 stimuli in squeeze bottles and asked to rate them according to intensity, familiarity, pleasantness and edibility, to describe associations elicited by them and, if possible, to name them. One-third of the odorants were presumed to be familiar to the Japanese only, one-third to the Germans and one-third to both populations. Significant differences were found between the two populations on all measures. Better performance by the Japanese in providing appropriate descriptors for 'Japanese' odorants and by the Germans for 'European' odorants supported the pre-selection of stimuli as culture-typical. Particularly clear differences between the two populations were found in pleasantness ratings. In general, a positive relationship was found between pleasantness and judgement of stimuli as edible, suggesting that culture-specific experiences-particularly of foods-may significantly influence odor perception. Somewhat unexpectedly, significant differences were also found between the two populations in intensity ratings for some odorants. These differences did not seem simply to be artefacts of the test situation and raise the possibility that experience may even influence such basic aspects of odor perception as stimulus intensity.

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