The Nose Knows: Tiny Differences Between Odors Can Either Stall or Sharpen Visual Attention

2005-07-04 09:06

Odor and Attention

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Stopping to smell the roses changes us in more ways than one. In France, psychologists have discovered that scents that differ on the molecular level affect human visual attention in very different ways. The results suggest that odor affects the nervous system in such a way as to alter physiological and other perceptual processes. This intriguing evidence of cross-modal modulation appears in the June issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Experimental participants became far more visually attentive to environmental distractions when, unaware, they were exposed to an odor that stimulates the facial trigeminal nerve. Because this nerve travels to the brain's "danger" center, the researchers suspect that certain odors may signal the nervous system to put the other senses on guard.

George Michael, PhD, and his colleagues compared the effects on visual attention of three different conditions

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