Monday, October 13, 2008

How context can set our emotional reaction to a smell.

Rolls et al. do a piece of work on how selective attention to affective value can alter how our brains process olfactory stimuli:
How does selective attention to affect influence sensory processing? In a functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation, when subjects were instructed to remember and rate the pleasantness of a jasmin odor, activations were greater in the medial orbitofrontal and pregenual cingulate cortex than when subjects were instructed to remember and rate the intensity of the odor. When the subjects were instructed to remember and rate the intensity, activations were greater in the inferior frontal gyrus. These top–down effects occurred not only during odor delivery but started in a preparation period after the instruction before odor delivery, and continued after termination of the odor in a short-term memory period. Thus, depending on the context in which odors are presented and whether affect is relevant, the brain prepares itself, responds to, and remembers an odor differently. These findings show that when attention is paid to affective value, the brain systems engaged to prepare for, represent, and remember a sensory stimulus are different from those engaged when attention is directed to the physical properties of a stimulus such as its intensity. This differential biasing of brain regions engaged in processing a sensory stimulus depending on whether the cognitive demand is for affect-related versus more sensory-related processing may be an important aspect of cognition and attention. This has many implications for understanding the effects not only of olfactory but also of other sensory stimuli.

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