The muted sense: Neurocognitive limitations of olfactory language

Jonas K. Olofsson*, Jay A. Gottfried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Most people find it profoundly difficult to name familiar smells. This difficulty persists even when perceptual odor processing and visual object naming are unimpaired, implying deficient sensory-specific interactions with the language system. Here we synthesize recent behavioral and neuroimaging data to develop a biologically informed framework for olfactory lexical processing in the human brain. Our central premise is that the difficulty in naming common objects through olfactory (compared with visual) stimulation is the end result of cumulative effects occurring at three successive stages of the olfactory language pathway: object perception, lexical-semantic integration, and verbalization. Understanding the neurocognitive mechanisms by which the language network interacts with olfaction can yield unique insights into the elusive nature of olfactory naming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-321
Number of pages8
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Language
  • Olfaction
  • Perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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