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Perceptual blending in odor mixtures depends on the nature of odorants and human olfactory expertise.

Abstract : Our olfactory system is confronted with complex mixtures of odorants, often recognized as single entities due to odor blending (e.g., coffee). In contrast, we are also able to discriminate odors from complex mixtures (e.g., off-odors). Therefore, the olfactory system is able to engage either configural or elemental processes when confronted with mixtures. However, the rules that govern the involvement of these processes during odor perception remain poorly understood. In our first experiment, we examined whether simple odorant mixtures (binary/ternary) could elicit configural perception. Twenty untrained subjects were asked to evaluate the odor typicality of mixtures and their constituents. The results revealed a significant increase in odor typicality in some but not all mixtures as compared with the single components, which suggest that perceptual odor blending can occur only in specific mixtures (configural processing). In our second experiment, we tested the hypothesis that general olfactory expertise can improve elemental perception of mixtures. Thirty-two trained subjects evaluated the odor typicality of the stimuli presented during the first experiment, and their responses were compared with those obtained from the untrained panelists. The results support the idea that general training with odors increases the elemental perception of binary and ternary blending mixtures.
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S. Barkat, Elodie Le Berre, Gérard Coureaud, Gilles Sicard, Thierry Thomas-Danguin. Perceptual blending in odor mixtures depends on the nature of odorants and human olfactory expertise.. Chemical Senses, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2012, 37 (2), pp.159-66. ⟨10.1093/chemse/bjr086⟩. ⟨hal-00723096⟩

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