Chapter 13. Emerging chemosensory preferences

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As in many other domains of perception and cognition, two opposite conceptions about the causes of emergence of odor preferences were raised by empirical research in newborn infants, one defending the blank slate view while the other endorsed the innate view. Although these conceptions were expressed some decades ago, they remain still alive in the domain of chemosensory research. The present chapter aims to weigh the evidence for both of these views on human newborns’ hedonic propensities towards odors in the light of current knowledge. It will address first how far we can consider that neonatal responses to odors depend exclusively on learning. Secondly, it will address how far we can consider that infantile responses to odors, or at least some of them, are “innate”. This will lead us to attempt clarifying the meaning of the concept of innateness and how it is applied in theorizing chemosensory abilities. Finally, we will consider whether the concept of innateness can stand the considerable plasticity of the olfactory system that appears to be generalized at all levels of its functioning.


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