Olfactory perceptual decision-making is biased by motivational state

Laura K. Shanahan*, Surabhi Bhutani, Thorsten Kahnt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growing evidence suggests that internal factors influence how we perceive the world. However, it remains unclear whether and how motivational states, such as hunger and satiety, regulate perceptual decision-making in the olfactory domain. Here, we developed a novel behavioral task involving mixtures of food and nonfood odors (i.e., cinnamon bun and cedar; pizza and pine) to assess olfactory perceptual decision-making in humans. Participants completed the task before and after eating a meal that matched one of the food odors, allowing us to compare perception of meal-matched and non-matched odors across fasted and sated states. We found that participants were less likely to perceive meal-matched, but not non-matched, odors as food dominant in the sated state. Moreover, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data revealed neural changes that paralleled these behavioral effects. Namely, odor-evoked fMRI responses in olfactory/limbic brain regions were altered after the meal, such that neural patterns for meal-matched odor pairs were less discriminable and less food-like than their non-matched counterparts. Our findings demonstrate that olfactory perceptual decision-making is biased by motivational state in an odor-specific manner and highlight a potential brain mechanism underlying this adaptive behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3001374
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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