High and low roads to odor valence? A choice response-time study

Jonas K. Olofsson*, Nicholas E. Bowman, Jay A. Gottfried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Valence and edibility are two important features of olfactory perception, but it remains unclear how they are read out from an olfactory input. For a given odor object (e.g., the smell of rose or garlic), does perceptual identification of that object necessarily precede retrieval of information about its valence and edibility, or alternatively, are these processes independent? In the present study, we studied rapid, binary perceptual decisions regarding odor detection, object identity, valence, and edibility for a set of common odors. We found that decisions regarding odor-object identity were faster than decisions regarding odor valence or edibility, but slower than detection. Mediation analysis revealed that odor valence and edibility decision response times were predicted by a model in which odor-object identity served as a mediator along the perceptual pathway from detection to both valence and edibility. According to this model, odor valence is determined through both a "low road" that bypasses odor objects and a "high road" that utilizes odor-object information. Edibility evaluations are constrained to processing via the high road. The results outline a novel causal framework that explains how major perceptual features might be rapidly extracted from odors through engagement of odor objects early in the processing stream.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1205-1211
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Emotion
  • Odor object coding
  • Olfactory perception
  • Valence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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