Predictive Scents

Just before we take a whiff of a smell, our brains encode a “predictive template” of the expected scent, says a new study. This means that if we’re verbally primed with a scent-related cue – say, someone asking us whether a glass of milk has gone rotten – we’re more likely to detect a tinge of rottenness in the milk’s smell, whether it’s actually gone sour or not. The relationship between priming and perception is a hot topic for debate in today’s neuroscience and psychology labs (I’ve written here about the influence of verbal priming on visual working memory, and here about its…

Smell and Self-Control

Our sense of smell is intimately linked with our ability to make good decisions, a new study shows. This might sound like a weird idea, but once you understand the underlying neuroscience, it actually makes perfect sense. It all comes down to a brain region called the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which is crucial for an odd grab-bag of functions: recognizing smells, anticipating rewards and punishments, and making conscious decisions.1 This new research, published in the journal PLoS ONE, focused on alcoholics in particular. A team led by Pierre Maurage at Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain found that people with impaired executive function – the ability to make…