Subliminal smells can guide social preferences

Wen Li*, Isabel Moallem, Ken A. Paller, Jay A. Gottfried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

135 Scopus citations

Abstract

It is widely accepted that unconscious processes can modulate judgments and behavior, but do such influences affect one's daily interactions with other people? Given that olfactory information has relatively direct access to cortical and subcortical emotional circuits, we tested whether the affective content of subliminal odors alters social preferences. Participants rated the likeability of neutral faces after smelling pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant odors delivered below detection thresholds. Odor affect significantly shifted likeability ratings only for those participants lacking conscious awareness of the smells, as verified by chance-level trial-by-trial performance on an odor-detection task. Across participants, the magnitude of this priming effect decreased as sensitivity for odor detection increased. In contrast, heart rate responses tracked odor valence independently of odor awareness. These results indicate that social preferences are subject to influences from odors that escape awareness, whereas the availability of conscious odor information may disrupt such effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1044-1049
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Volume18
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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