Chemical senses

Odor similarity does not influence the time needed for odor processing.

PMID 14654446


The brain's link between perception and action involves several steps, which include stimulus transduction, neuronal coding of the stimulus, comparison to a memory template and choice of an appropriate behavioral response. All of these need time, and many studies report that the time needed to compare two stimuli correlates inversely with the perceived distance between them. We developed a behavioral assay in which we tested the time that a honeybee needs to discriminate between odors consisting of mixtures of two components, and included both very similar and very different stimuli spanning four log-concentration ranges. Bees learned to discriminate all odors, including very similar odors and the same odor at different concentrations. Even though discriminating two very similar odors appears to be a more difficult task than discriminating two very distinct substances, we found that the time needed to make a choice for or against an odor was independent of odor similarity. Our data suggest that, irrespective of the nature of the olfactory code, the bee olfactory system evaluates odor quality after a constant interval. This may ensure that odors are only assessed after the olfactory network has optimized its representation.

Related Materials