Chapter 5. Olfactory perception

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From a functional perspective odor perception involves the detection and recognition of complex chemical blends against an ever-changing chemical background. This chapter examines one account of how this might occur using an object recognition approach (ORA). Drawing first on sensory physiology, it is apparent that basic parameters of olfactory processing are consistent with an ORA. There is the capacity to support figure/ground separation based upon rapid cortical adaptation and via content addressable memory, a capacity to recognize even degraded signals. The second part of the chapter examines whether psychological evidence is consistent with an ORA. Based upon data from behavioral genetics, psychophysical studies, child development, cross-cultural research and neuropsychology, these different fields all suggest the centrality of learning and memory in olfactory perception, and support various predictions derived from an ORA. The final part of the chapter examines the limitations and implications of an ORA, for multimodal flavor perception, for the centrality of affect in olfaction and the nature of top-down processing.


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