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Perception. 2001;30(3):381-91.

The influence of verbal labeling on the perception of odors: evidence for olfactory illusions?

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Department of Psychology, Box 1853, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


Using the definition that an illusion is observed when a stimulus is invariant but context alters its perception, we examined whether verbal context could produce olfactory illusions. To test this effect, we chose five odors with minimally fixed sources and that could be interpreted with various hedonic connotations. The odors were violet leaf, patchouli, pine oil, menthol, and a 1:1 mixture of isovaleric and butyric acids. Subjects individually sniffed each odor at two different sessions separated by one week. At each session an odor was given a different verbal label (either positive or negative) and subjects rated the odors on several hedonic scales and provided perceptual and interpretative responses to them. Results showed that the perception of an odor could be significantly influenced by the label provided for it. We propose that the cases where verbal labels inverted odor perception are the first empirical demonstrations of olfactory illusions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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