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Odor pleasantness shown to be partly hard-wired
Date:4/15/2010

cale ranging from "very pleasant" to "very unpleasant." From this dataset, they developed an "odor pleasantness" algorithm, which they then programmed into the eNose. The scientists then asked the eNose to predict the pleasantness of a completely new set of odors. The scientists found that the eNose was able to generalize and rate the pleasantness of novel odors it never smelled before, and these ratings were about 80% similar to those of naive human raters who had not participated in the eNose training phase. Moreover, if the odors were simply categorized as either "pleasant" or "unpleasant," as opposed to being rated on a scale, it achieved an accuracy of 99%.

To test whether olfactory perception is culture-specific, the scientists tested eNose predictions against a group of recent immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia. The results showed that the eNose's ability to predict the pleasantness of novel odors against the native Ethiopian's ratings was just as good, even though it was "tuned" to the pleasantness of odors as perceived by native Israelis. This suggests a fundamental cross-cultural similarity in odorant pleasantness.

To account for observed cultural differences, Sobel says that "culture influences the perception of olfactory pleasantness mostly in particular contexts. To stress this point, many may wonder how the French can like the smell of their cheese, when most find the smell quite repulsive. We believe that it is not that the French think the smell is pleasant per se, they merely think it is a sign of good cheese. However, if the smell was presented out of context in a jar, then the French would probably rate the odor just as unpleasant as anyone else would; that is why the French don't make cheese-smelling perfume".

The findings of the study could provide new methods for odor screening and environmental monitoring. It may, in the future, contribute to the digital transmission of smell which would scent-enable movies, games a
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Contact: Michell Dror
Michelle.Dror@weizmann.ac.il
Public Library of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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