Chapter 8. Attending to olfactory short-term memory

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Short-term memory generally refers to the temporary internal representation of a limited amount of information. Trygg Engen’s early results on olfactory short-term memory were so dissimilar to those found in other sensory systems that they led him to question the very existence of this type of memory (Engen, 1987). His later work, however, suggests that he came to support the concept of olfactory short-term memory (Engen, Gilmore, & Mair, 1991), though he felt that it functioned quite differently from other memory systems (Herz & Engen, 1996). Although a variety of general models regarding the nature of short-term memory exist (e.g., Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Jonides et al., 2008), most recognize the role of attention as an integral part of the memory process. Likewise, general models of attention include short-term memory as a fundamental component (Knudsen, 2007). So, in other sensory systems, attention has been shown to both determine the contents of memory (Broadbent, 1958) and be guided by short-term memory in perceptual tasks (Downing, 2000). The question remains, however, as to whether olfactory short-term memory enjoys the same two-way relationship with attention. The most recent model of olfactory memory (Wilson & Stevens, 2006) does not include attention as an aspect of the memory process. An examination of the literature gives evidence that although olfactory short-term memory has some unique characteristics when compared to memory for other types of stimuli, attention is still a highly relevant component.


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