Abstract

Olfactory perception is highly variable from one person to another, as a function of individual and contextual factors. Here, we investigated the influence of 2 important factors of variation: culture and semantic information. More specifically, we tested whether cultural-specific knowledge and presence versus absence of odor names modulate odor perception, by measuring these effects in 2 populations differing in cultural background but not in language. Participants from France and Quebec, Canada, smelled 4 culture-specific and 2 non-specific odorants in 2 conditions: first without label, then with label. Their ratings of pleasantness, familiarity, edibility, and intensity were collected as well as their psychophysiological and olfactomotor responses. The results revealed significant effects of culture and semantic information, both at the verbal and non-verbal level. They also provided evidence that availability of semantic information reduced cultural differences. Semantic information had a unifying action on olfactory perception that overrode the influence of cultural background.

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