Basic Emotions Elicited by Odors and Pictures

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The sense of olfaction is often reported to have a special relationship with emotional processing. Memories triggered by olfactory cues often have a very emotional load. On the other hand, basic negative or positive emotional states should be sufficient to cover the most significant functions of the olfactory system including ingestion, hazard avoidance, and social communication. Thus, we investigated whether different basic emotions can be evoked in healthy people through the sense of olfaction. We asked 119 participants which odor evokes one of the six basic emotions (happiness, disgust, anger, anxiety, sadness, and surprise); another 97 participants were asked about pictures evoking those emotions. The results showed that almost every participant could name an olfactory elicitor for happiness or disgust. Olfactory elicitors of anxiety were reported less frequently, but they were still reported by three-quarters of the participants. However, for sadness and anger only about half of the participants reported an olfactory elicitor, whereas significantly more named a visual cue. Olfactory emotion elicitors were mainly related to the classes of culture, plants, and food, and visual emotion elicitors were largely related to humans. This data supports the hypothesis that in the vast majority of people, few differentiated emotions can be elicited through the olfactory channel. These emotions are happiness, disgust, and anxiety.

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