Smelling the Space Around Us: Odor Pleasantness Shifts Visuospatial Attention in Humans

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Abstract

The prompt recognition of pleasant and unpleasant odors is a crucial regulatory and adaptive need of humans. Reactive answers to unpleasant odors ensure survival in many threatening situations. Notably, although humans typically react to certain odors by modulating their distance from the olfactory source, the effect of odor pleasantness over the orienting of visuospatial attention is still unknown. To address this issue, we first trained participants to associate visual shapes with pleasant and unpleasant odors, and then we assessed the impact of this association on a visuospatial task. Results showed that the use of trained shapes as flankers modulates performance in a line bisection task. Specifically, it was found that the estimated midpoint was shifted away from the visual shape associated with the unpleasant odor, whereas it was moved toward the shape associated with the pleasant odor. This finding demonstrates that odor pleasantness selectively shifts human attention in the surrounding space.

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