Physiology & behavior

A new method for measuring reaction times for odour detection at iso-intensity: Comparison between an unpleasant and pleasant odour.

PMID 16469339


A psychophysical detection test was developed to measure the reaction time of human subjects to a pleasant and an unpleasant odour. The response latencies to stimulation with a malodour (valeric acid) and pleasant odorant (amyl acetate) were compared over a range of different stimulus strengths. By expressing reaction time as a function of detection rate, the responses to the two odours can be compared at iso-intensity across the concentration range. This is the first study that allows odorants to be compared at the same intensity over a range of concentrations. The malodour valeric acid was detected more rapidly than amyl acetate; at the 50% detection level the reaction time for the detection of amyl acetate was 1.74 s compared 1.36 s for valeric acid (380 ms or 22% faster). Women were significantly faster than men at detecting both the unpleasant (by 18%) and pleasant (by 26%) odour at the 50% detection level and this disparity increased with decreasing stimulus strength. In conclusion, we demonstrate the ability of a new method for the measurement of reaction times to odour detection to discriminate between two different odours - a malodour and a non-malodour.

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