Abstract

The Labeled Magnitude Scale (LMS) is a semantic scale of perceptual intensity characterized by a quasi-logarithmic spacing of its verbal labels. The LMS had previously been shown to yield psychophysical functions equivalent to magnitude estimation (ME) when gustatory, thermal and nociceptive stimuli were presented and rated together, and the upper bound of the LMS was defined as the ‘strongest imaginable oral sensation’. The present study compared the LMS to ME within the more limited contexts of taste and smell. In Experiment 1, subjects used both methods to rate either taste intensity produced by sucrose and NaCl or odor intensity produced by acetic acid and phenyl ethyl alcohol, with the upper bound of the LMS defined as either the ‘strongest imaginable taste’ or the ‘strongest imaginable odor’. The LMS produced psychophysical functions equivalent to those produced by ME. In Experiment 2 a new group of subjects used both methods to rate the intensity of three different taste qualities, with the upper bound of the LMS defined as the ‘strongest imaginable [sweetness, saltiness, or bitterness]’. In all three cases the LMS produced steeper functions than did ME. Experiment 3 tested the hypothesis that the LMS yields data comparable to ME only when the perceptual domain under study includes painful sensations. This hypothesis was supported when the LMS again produced steeper functions than ME after subjects had been explicitly instructed to omit painful sensations (e.g. the ‘burn’ of hot peppers) from the concept of ‘strongest imaginable taste’. We conclude that the LMS can be used to scale sensations of taste and smell when they are broadly defined, but that it should be modified for use in scaling specific taste (and probably odor) qualities. The implications of these results for theoretical issues related to ME, category-ratio scales and the size of the perceptual range in different sensory modalities are discussed. Chem. Senses 21: 323–334, 1996.