Human Olfactory Perception: Characteristics, Mechanisms and Functions
Pomerantz, James R.
Doctor of Philosophy
Olfactory sensing is ubiquitous across animals and important for survival. Yet, its characteristics, mechanisms, and functions in humans remain not well understood. In this dissertation, I present four studies on human olfactory perception. Study I investigates the impact of short-term exposures to an odorant on long-term olfactory learning and habituation, while Study II examines human ability to localize smells; Study III probes visual-olfactory integration of object representations, and Study IV explores the role of olfaction in sensing nutrients. Several conclusions are drawn from these studies. First, brief intermittent exposures to even a barely detectable odorant lead to long-term incremental odorant-specific habituation. Second, humans localize smells based on gradient cues between the nostrils. Third, there is a within-hemispheric advantage in the integration of visual-olfactory object representations. Fourth, olfaction partakes in nutrient-sensing and facilitates the detection of food. Some broader implications of our findings are discussed.