Olfactory Performance Can Be Influenced by the Presentation Order, Background Noise, and Positive Concurrent Feedback

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Sniffin’ Sticks have become a popular procedure to measure overall olfactory functionality with 3 subtest: phenyl ethyl alcohol threshold test (T), discrimination (D), and identification (I). However, several procedural components specified by the original paper have not been tested nor has the impact of deviations been measured. The aim of the present work was to measure olfactory performance under modified testing procedures. First, the reverse order of subtests (IDT) was compared with more standard practices (TDI). Next, the possible impact of background noise and positive concurrent feedback were assessed. A total of 120 individuals participated in the study where the 3 conditional experiments, each involving 40 participants, were completed. Testing procedures that reversed the presentation order of subtests (I->D->T) scored a significantly lower overall TDI score than standard testing order with the threshold subtest being the most influenced. Additionally, nonverbal background noise lowered overall olfactory performance while concurrent feedback modulated threshold performance. These results emphasize the importance of testing parameters where olfactory perception and tasks may be modulated by adaptation and attentional distraction, respectively. This study helped furthermore to demonstrate that the investigated 3 deviations from the standard procedure revealed a significant impact on the performance outcome in olfactory assessment using the Sniffin’ Sticks.

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