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

7 Scopus citations


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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