Assessing implicit odor localization in humans using a cross-modal spatial cueing paradigm

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  2. Dr Andreas Finkelmeyer
Author(s)Moessnang C, Finkelmeyer A, Vossen A, Schneider F, Habel U
Publication type Article
JournalPLoS ONE
ISSN (electronic)1932-6203
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Background Navigation based on chemosensory information is one of the most important skills in the animal kingdom. Studies on odor localization suggest that humans have lost this ability. However, the experimental approaches used so far were limited to explicit judgements, which might ignore a residual ability for directional smelling on an implicit level without conscious appraisal. Methods A novel cueing paradigm was developed in order to determine whether an implicit ability for directional smelling exists. Participants performed a visual two-alternative forced choice task in which the target was preceded either by a side-congruent or a side-incongruent olfactory spatial cue. An explicit odor localization task was implemented in a second experiment. Results No effect of cue congruency on mean reaction times could be found. However, a time by condition interaction emerged, with significantly slower responses to congruently compared to incongruently cued targets at the beginning of the experiment. This cueing effect gradually disappeared throughout the course of the experiment. In addition, participants performed at chance level in the explicit odor localization task, thus confirming the results of previous research. Conclusion The implicit cueing task suggests the existence of spatial information processing in the olfactory system. Response slowing after a side-congruent olfactory cue is interpreted as a cross-modal attentional interference effect. In addition, habituation might have led to a gradual disappearance of the cueing effect. It is concluded that under immobile conditions with passive monorhinal stimulation, humans are unable to explicitly determine the location of a pure odorant. Implicitly, however, odor localization seems to exert an influence on human behaviour. To our knowledge, these data are the first to show implicit effects of odor localization on overt human behaviour and thus support the hypothesis of residual directional smelling in humans.
PublisherPublic Library of Science
PubMed id22216331
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