“What smell?” Temporarily loading visual attention induces a prolonged loss of olfactory awareness

Forster, Sophie and Spence, Charles (2018) “What smell?” Temporarily loading visual attention induces a prolonged loss of olfactory awareness. Psychological Science. ISSN 0956-7976

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The human sense of smell is highly sensitive, often conveying important biological signals. Yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that we commonly fail to notice supra-threshold environmental olfactory stimuli. The determinants of olfactory awareness are, as yet, unknown. Here, we adapted the ‘inattentional blindness’ paradigm, to test whether olfactory awareness is dependent on attention. Across three experiments, participants performed a visual search task with either a high or low perceptual load (a well-established attentional manipulation) while exposed to an ambient coffee aroma. Consistent with our hypothesis, task load modulated olfactory awareness: 42.5% fewer participants in the high (vs. low) load condition reported noticing the coffee aroma. Our final experiment demonstrates that, due to unique characteristics of olfactory habituation, the consequences of inattentional anosmia can persist even once attention becomes available. These findings establish the phenomenon of inattentional anosmia, and have applied implications for predicting when people may miss potentially important olfactory information.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Depositing User: Ellena Adams
Date Deposited: 18 May 2018 14:00
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2018 15:12
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/75934

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