Semantic-free scaling of odor quality.

Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, USA.
Physiology & Behavior (Impact Factor: 3.03). 08/1996; 60(1):211-5. DOI: 10.1016/0031-9384(96)00019-4
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The validity of the odor quality reports given by naive human subjects is often questionable. On the one hand, social conventions can influence the labeling of odorants, especially those that have putrid or uncommon odor qualities, and on the other, semantic differences exist for odor descriptors among individuals. We are interested in the individual differences in the quality reports elicited by two nominally putrid odorants, androstenone (AND) and pemenone (PEM). Here we sought to establish empirical support for the individual differences previously obtained in studies of their odor quality, using a nonverbal, semantic-free method of classification. Undergraduate volunteers sniffed a moderate concentration (390 microM) of PEM, rated its intensity, and provided a verbal odor descriptor. The subjects were then classified as PEM osmic (n = 42) if the quality report was putrid (rancid, urinous, sweaty), allosmic (n = 23), if the quality was nonputrid, and anosmic (n = 39) if no odor was detected. The subjects then sorted 15 odorants matched for intensity, five selected from each of three nominal odor quality types, into as many odor groups as they wished, as long as each group contained all of the compounds with similar odors. The number of times each odorant was paired with another was used as data for an independent multidimensional scaling with ALSCAL, for each class of subject. Three-dimensional solutions showed that this nonverbal, semantic-free scaling method produced odor classifications consistent with those found when each class of subject reported odor qualities from a defined list of quality descriptors. Cluster analysis of the MDS coordinates revealed that these solutions also retained the individual odor quality differences thought to be characteristic of osmic, allosmic and anosmic subjects.

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