It is widely accepted that unconscious processes can modulate judgments and behavior, but do such influences affect one's daily interactions with other people? Given that olfactory information has relatively direct access to cortical and subcortical emotional circuits, we tested whether the affective content of subliminal odors alters social preferences. Participants rated the likeability of neutral faces after smelling pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant odors delivered below detection thresholds. Odor affect significantly shifted likeability ratings only for those participants lacking conscious awareness of the smells, as verified by chance-level trial-by-trial performance on an odor-detection task. Across participants, the magnitude of this priming effect decreased as sensitivity for odor detection increased. In contrast, heart rate responses tracked odor valence independently of odor awareness. These results indicate that social preferences are subject to influences from odors that escape awareness, whereas the availability of conscious odor information may disrupt such effects.
Figure - The experimental paradigm. First, participant specific odor detection thresholds were determined using an ascending-staircase procedure. Then, participants completed an odor-detection and likeability judgment task. In this example, the detection threshold was at dilution 20, so dilution 22 was used in the main task. In that task, participants sniffed a bottle, indicated whether or not it contained an odor, viewed a face stimulus, and finally rated the likeability of the face. For a subset of the participants, heart rate was recorded.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Subliminal Smells Can Guide Social Preferences
Here is the abstract of an interesting article by Li et al. in Psychological Science, followed by a figure showing the experimental paradigm: