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BMC Neurosci. 2010 Oct 18;11:131. doi: 10.1186/1471-2202-11-131.

Effects of aversive odour presentation on inhibitory control in the Stroop colour-word interference task.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr, 30, Aachen, Germany.



Due to the unique neural projections of the olfactory system, odours have the ability to directly influence affective processes. Furthermore, it has been shown that emotional states can influence various non-emotional cognitive tasks, such as memory and planning. However, the link between emotional and cognitive processes is still not fully understood. The present study used the olfactory pathway to induce a negative emotional state in humans to investigate its effect on inhibitory control performance in a standard, single-trial manual Stroop colour-word interference task. An unpleasant (H2S) and an emotionally neutral (Eugenol) odorant were presented in two separate experimental runs, both in blocks alternating with ambient air, to 25 healthy volunteers, while they performed the cognitive task.


Presentation of the unpleasant odorant reduced Stroop interference by reducing the reaction times for incongruent stimuli, while the presentation of the neutral odorant had no effect on task performance.


The odour-induced negative emotional state appears to facilitate cognitive processing in the task used in the present study, possibly by increasing the amount of cognitive control that is being exerted. This stands in contrast to other findings that showed impaired cognitive performance under odour-induced negative emotional states, but is consistent with models of mood-congruent processing.

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