Project

Olfactory perceptual learning from a developmental perspective

Goal: The aim of the project is to investigate olfactory perceptual learning out of the lab and its long-term effect on people's sense of smell. The focus is mostly on children's olfaction (i.e., the development thereof) and the way it is used in everyday life.

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Conducting interviews about children’s olfactory behaviours offers a feasible way of learning about the earliest perceptions and knowledge of one’s odour world. However, little is known about the stability and development of such self-reports. Here we present the first longitudinal study to repeatedly test children’s odour awareness in five waves over a two-year period. We expected that higher scores would be attained by girls relative to boys and by older children compared to younger ones and that the scores would increase further into the study. We found a linear time-related increase in the total COBEL scores and in the food and environmental components, whereas awareness of social odours decreased over time. Girls were more olfaction-oriented in the context of social and environmental, but not food, odours. All the reported effects were small. The age at which the children entered the study did not affect their scores. We suggest that the unexpected findings regarding social odours warrant replication in particular and extension in longitudinal studies carried out over a broader time span. Fulltext available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.02.035
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Changes in olfactory perception observed in cross-sectional studies may not reflect actual ongoing change within individuals. The aim of the present study was to assess intra-individual as well as inter-individual variation in olfactory scores in preschoolers across five waves over a two-year period. The participants were 157 children (79 boys) aged 5.8 ± 0.6 years at initial testing. We repeatedly examined the effects of time, age, gender, test practice, operationalized as the number of sessions attended and the intervals between them, and influence of school entry on identification, discrimination, and threshold Sniffin’ Sticks scores. Data imputation was performed due to missing data. In non-imputed data, odor identification and discrimination were higher in girls. More odors were also correctly identified by children who had attended fewer sessions in shorter intervals. In imputed data, in addition to these effects, odor identification and discrimination increased further into the study and were higher in children who were older at initial testing and those who had started attending school. Schoolchildren also had lower thresholds than preschoolers. However, both the significant and non-significant effects were generally small. We observed mainly small effects of gender and test practice on odor identification and discrimination, whereas intraindividual variation appeared only after data imputation. It is likely that olfactory development over time needs to be observed for longer than two years. Fulltext available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12078-019-09260-0
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Diversity in children’s everyday olfactory environment may affect the development of their olfactory abilities and odor awareness. To test this, we collected data on olfactory abilities using the Sniffin’ Sticks and odor awareness with Children’s Olfactory Behaviors in Everyday Life Questionnaire in 153 preschool children and retested them one and a half year later. Parents completed an inventory on children’s exposure to a variety of odors and on their own odor awareness using the Odor Awareness Scale. We controlled for the effects of age and verbal fluency on children’s performance. We found that children’s odor identification and discrimination scores differed as a function of parental odor awareness. Although these effects were rather small, they were commensurate in size with those of gender and age. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to present evidence that diversity in children’s olfactory environment affects variability in their olfactory abilities and odor awareness. We suggest that future studies consider the long-term impact of perceptual learning out of the laboratory and its consequences for olfactory development. Fulltext is available as of February 13, 2018 at www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-20236-0
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Introduction A great degree of interindividual variability has been reported in measures of psychophysical olfactory performance and odor awareness in both children and adults. Previous studies have suggested the possibility that one of the factors that might contribute to this variability could be the degree of odor exposure experienced in everyday contexts. Aim In the present study, we hypothesized that children exposed to a greater variety of odors on a more frequent basis exhibit higher odor identification, discrimination, and odor awareness scores. Results We have found an effect of odor exposure on one aspect of the children’s olfactory knowledge as reflected in their reports of olfactory behavior, but not olfactory abilities. In so doing, we have replicated some of the previous findings in the literature of the female advantage in the olfactory domain. Namely, we report that girls showed a more profound metacognitive understanding of their sense of smell and a greater degree of olfaction-oriented behavior, which was not accounted for by a gender difference in verbal fluency. Nevertheless, girls did not outperform boys on any of the olfactory tests. Conclusion Semi-longitudinal and longitudinal studies in verbally proficient children, employing both self- and parental reports of children’s odor exposure and repeated olfactory testing, may provide insight into whether children exposed more frequently to a greater variety of odors over the longer term come to exhibit greater odor awareness and superior performance in olfactory tests. The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12078-016-9205-3
Sex differences in olfaction are well-established, but explanations for those sex differences remain incomplete. One contributing factor could be individual- or cultural-level differences in exposure to odors.We tested whether frequent engagement with common sources of domestic odors (cooking, domestic animals, siblings) was linked to individual differences in olfactory reactivity and awareness among children in southern Namibia and also compared study populations in southern Namibia and the Czech Republic using the established Children’s Olfactory Behavior in Everyday Life (COBEL) questionnaire. We did not find any effects of engagement with odor sources on olfactory behavior, but our results were consistent with usual olfactory sex differences in that girls scored higher than boys in measures of olfactory reactivity and awareness. Further, among the Czech children (but not among the Namibian children), odor identification abilities were positively linked to COBEL scores. Our data contribute to the literature that finds that sex differences in olfactory awareness are apparent across a diverse range of cultures and age groups.
Recent research has shown that within-gender variability in olfactory abilities may be linked to sexual orientation, particularly in men, but is better predicted by childhood gender nonconformity. However, whether there could be similar within-gender variability in odor awareness remains unclear. Further, gender differences in olfactory abilities and odor awareness in favor of women have been proposed to be partly related to women’s broader olfactory experience due to their greater engagement in olfaction-related activities. Nevertheless, within-gender variability in odor exposure could also be expected. Therefore, in a sample of 156 men and women (83 non-heterosexual), we aimed to look for between- and within-gender variability in odor awareness and self-reported engagement in specific olfaction-related activities. Secondly, we tested whether interindividual (between- and within-gender) differences in olfactory abilities and odor awareness might be related to experience with odors, assessed in terms of engagement in olfaction-related activities. The results of the present study show that within-gender variability, previously found in some olfactory abilities in men and women, does not seem to extend to odor awareness, and appears to only apply to certain olfaction-related activities. In the total sample, more frequent exposure to a greater variety of potentially intense or novel food odors and flavors in both childhood and adulthood was positively linked to both greater odor awareness and better odor identification. There was also a positive link between female-stereotyped activities in childhood and odor awareness. Our results suggest that long-term everyday experience with odors may be linked to a better ability of odor identification and greater odor awareness, although longitudinal studies are needed to further investigate these associations.
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The aim of the project is to investigate olfactory perceptual learning out of the lab and its long-term effect on people's sense of smell. The focus is mostly on children's olfaction (i.e., the development thereof) and the way it is used in everyday life.