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The perception of odor objects in everyday life: a review on the processing of odor mixtures

Abstract : Smelling monomolecular odors hardly ever occurs in everyday life, and the daily functioning of the sense of smell relies primarily on the processing of complex mixtures of volatiles that are present in the environment (e.g., emanating from food or conspecifics). Such processing allows for the instantaneous recognition and categorization of smells and also for the discrimination of odors among others to extract relevant information and to adapt efficiently in different contexts. The neurophysiological mechanisms underpinning this highly efficient analysis of complex mixtures of odorants is beginning to be unraveled and support the idea that olfaction, as vision and audition, relies on odor-objects encoding. This configural processing of odor mixtures, which is empirically subject to important applications in our societies (e.g., the art of perfumers, flavorists, and wine makers), has been scientifically studied only during the last decades. This processing depends on many individual factors, among which are the developmental stage, lifestyle, physiological and mood state, and cognitive skills; this processing also presents striking similarities between species. The present review gathers the recent findings, as observed in animals, healthy subjects, and/or individuals with affective disorders, supporting the perception of complex odor stimuli as odor objects. It also discusses peripheral to central processing, and cognitive and behavioral significance. Finally, this review highlights that the study of odor mixtures is an original window allowing for the investigation of daily olfaction and emphasizes the need for knowledge about the underlying biological processes, which appear to be crucial for our representation and adaptation to the chemical environment.
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Thierry Thomas-Danguin, Charlotte Sinding, Sébastien Romagny, Fouzia El Mountassir, Boriana Atanasova, et al.. The perception of odor objects in everyday life: a review on the processing of odor mixtures. Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers, 2014, 5, ⟨10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00504⟩. ⟨hal-02634353⟩

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