Techniques in the Quantitative Study of Human Olfaction

  • William S. Cain
  • J. Enrique Cometto-Muñiz
  • René A. de Wijk


This chapter will illustrate some techniques and procedures relevant to the study of the functional properties of human olfaction. Rather than deal with methodology in detail, we will deal largely with the outcome of psychophysical work on the premise that outcome illustrates methodology best. Although olfaction may be the least well understood of the five classical senses, there do exist solid data on various of its functions. We will cover only a few here and will occasionally highlight techniques that may prove of interest to a person who wishes to evaluate the modality clinically. First, however, we will look briefly at matters of stimulus control.


Temporal Integration Psychophysical Function Odor Intensity Ethyl Mercaptan Odor Quality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amoore, J.E. (1982). Odor theory and odor classification. In E.T. Theimer (Ed.), Fragrance Chemistry: The Science of the Sense of Smell. New York: Academic, pp. 27–76.Google Scholar
  2. Amoore, J.E., and D. Venstrom (1966). Sensory analysis of odor qualities in terms of the stereochemical theory. J. Food Sci., 31, 118–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amoore, J.E., and B. Oilman (1983). Practical test kits for quantitatively evaluating the sense of smell. Rhinology, 21, 49–54.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Berglund, B., L. Hogman, and I. Johansson (1988). Reliability of odor measurements near threshold. Reports from the Department of Psychology. University of Stockholm, paper #682, November.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, K.S., CM. Maclean, and R.R. Robinette (1968). Sensitivity to chemical odors. Human Biol., 40, 456–472.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cain, W.S. (1969). Odor intensity: Differences in the exponent of the psychophysical function. Percept. Psychophys., 6, 349–354.Google Scholar
  7. Cain, W.S. (1977). Bilateral interaction in olfaction. Nature, 268, 50–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cain, W.S. (1978). History of research on smell. In E.C. Carterette and M.P. Friedman (Eds.), Handbook of Perception, Vol. 6A, Tasting and Smelling. New York: Academic, pp. 197–229.Google Scholar
  9. Cain, W.S. (1988). Olfaction. In R. Atkinson, R. Herrnstein, G. Lindzey, and R. Luce (Eds.), Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology. New York: Wiley, pp. 409–460.Google Scholar
  10. Cain, W.S. (1989). Testing olfaction in a clinical setting. Ear, Nose Throat J., 68, 316–328.Google Scholar
  11. Cain, W.S. (1990). Perceptual characteristics of nasal irritation. In B.G. Green, J.R. Mason, and M.R. Kare (Eds.), Chemical Senses: Irritation. New York: Marcel Dekker, pp. 43–58.Google Scholar
  12. Cain, W.S., and H.R. Moskowitz (1974). Psychophysical scaling of odors. In A. Turk, J.W. Johnston, Jr., and D.G. Moulton (Eds.),.Human Responses to Environmental Odors. New York: Academic, pp. 2–32.Google Scholar
  13. Cain, W.S., and C.L. Murphy (1980). Interaction between the chemoreceptive modalities of odour and irritation. Nature, 284, 255–257.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cain, W.S., and B.P. Leaderer (1982). Ventilation requirements in occupied spaces during smoking and non-smoking occupancy. Environ. Int., 8, 505–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cain, W.S., J. Gent, F.A. Catalanotto, and R.B. Goodspeed (1983). Clinical evaluation of olfaction. Am. J. Otolaryngol., 4, 252–256.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cain, W.S., B.P. Leaderer, R. Isseroff, L.G. Berglund, R.J. Huey, E.D. Lipsitt, and D. Perlman (1983). Ventilation requirements in buildings: I. Control of occupancy odors and tobacco smoke odor. Atmospheric Environ., 17, 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cain, W.S., L.C. See, and T. Tosun (1986). Irritation and odor from formaldehyde: Chamber Studies. IAQ ’86: Managing Indoor Air for Health and Energy Conservation. Atlanta: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air- Condi tioning Engineers, pp. 126–137.Google Scholar
  18. Cain, W.S., T. Tosun, L.C. See, and B.P. Leaderer (1987). Environmental tobacco smoke: Sensory reactions of occupants. Atmospheric Environ., 21, 347–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cain, W.S., J.F. Gent, R.B. Goodspeed, and G. Leonard (1988). Evaluation of olfactory dysfunction in the Connecticut Chemosensory Clinical Research Center. Larynoscope, 98, 83–88.Google Scholar
  20. Cain, W.S., and J.C. Stevens (1989). Uniformity of olfactory loss in aging. Ann. NYAcad. Sci., 561, 29–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cain, W.S., and J.F. Gent (1991). Olfactory sensitivity: Reliability, generality, and association with aging. J. Exp. Psychol.: Hum. Percept. Perform., 17, 382–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cain, W.S., and E.H. Polak (1991). Olfactory adaptation as an aspect of odor similarity. Chem. Senses.Google Scholar
  23. Clausen, G.H., P.O. Fanger, W.S. Cain, and B.P. Leaderer (1986). Stability of body odor in enclosed spaces. Environ. Int., 12, 201–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cometto-Muñiz, J.E., and W.S. Cain (1982). Perception of nasal pungency in smokers and nonsmokers. Physiol. Behav., 29, 727–731.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Cometto-Muñiz, J.E., and W.S. Cain (1984). Temporal integration of pungency. Chem. Senses, 8, 315–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Cometto-Muñiz, J.E., and G. Noriega (1985). Gender differences in the perception of pungency. Physiol. Behav., 34, 385–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Cometto-Muñiz, J.E., and W.S. Cain (1990). Thresholds for odor and nasal pungency. Physiol. Behav., 48, 719–725.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. de Wijk, R.A. (1989). Temporal Factors in Human Olfactory Perception. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, University of Utrecht, Netherlands.Google Scholar
  29. Doty, R.L., T.P. Gregor, and R.G. Settle (1986). Influence of intertriai interval and sniff-bottle volume on phenyl ethyl alcohol odor detection thresholds. Chem. Senses, 11, 259–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dravnieks, A. (1975). Instrumental aspects of olfactometry. In D.G. Moulton, A. Turk, and J.W. Johnston Jr. (Eds.), Methods in Olfactory Research. New York: Academic, pp. 1–58.Google Scholar
  31. Dravnieks, A. (1977). Correlation of odor intensities and vapor pressures with structural properties of odorants. In R.A. Scanlan (Ed.), Flavor Quality: Objective Measurement. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, pp. 11–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dravnieks, A., and W.H. Prokop (1975). Source emission odor measurement by a dynamic forced-choice triangle olfactometer. J. Air Pollution Control Assoc., 25, 28–35.Google Scholar
  33. Dravnieks, A., W.H. Prokop, and W.R. Boehme (1978). Measurement of ambient odors using dynamic forced-choice triangle olfactometer. J. Air Pollution Control Assoc, 28, 1124–1130.Google Scholar
  34. Dunn, J.D., J.E. Cometto-Muñiz, and W.S. Cain (1982). Nasal reflexes: Reduced sensitivity to CO2 irritation in cigarette smokers. J. Appl. Toxicol., 2, 176–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Eisberg, CA., and I. Levy (1935). The sense of smell. A new and simple method of quantitative olfactometry. Bull. Neurol. Inst. NY, 4, 5–19.Google Scholar
  36. Fazzalari, F. (1978). Compilation of Odor and Taste Threshold Values Data. Philadelphia: American Society for Testing and Materials.Google Scholar
  37. Fechner, G.T. (1860). Elemente der Psychophysik, Vols. I and II. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Haertel.Google Scholar
  38. García-Medina, M.R., and W.S. Cain (1982). Bilateral integration in the common chemical sense. Physiol. Behav., 29, 349–353.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hubert, H.B., R.R. Fabsitz, M. Feinleib, and K.S. Brown (1980). Olfactory sensitivity in humans: Genetic versus environmental control. Science, 208, 607–609.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Katz, S.H., and E.J. Talbert (1930). Intensities of odors and irritating effects of warning agents for inflammable and poisonous gases. US Department of Commerce, paper #480, 1–37.Google Scholar
  41. Kobal, G. (1981). Elektrophysiologische Untersuchungen des Menslichen Geruchsinns (Electrophysiological Investigation of the Human Sense of Smell). New York: Thieme-Copythek.Google Scholar
  42. Koelega, H.S. (1970). Extraversion, sex, arousal and olfactory sensitivity. Acta Psychol., 34, 51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Koelega, H.S., and E.P. Köster (1974). Some experiments on sex differences in odor perception. Ann. NY Acad. Sci., 237, 234–246.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Köster, E.P. (1967). Olfactometre modifié et automatisé. Parf. Cosm. Sav., 10, 509–513.Google Scholar
  45. Köster, E.P. (1971). Adaptation and Cross-Adaptation in Olfaction. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  46. Köster, E.P. (1975). Human psychophysics in olfaction. In D.G. Moulton, A. Turk, and J.W. Johnston Jr. (Eds.), Methods in Olfactory Research. New York: Academic, pp. 345–374.Google Scholar
  47. Laffort, P. (1969). A linear relationship between olfactory effectiveness and identified molecular characteristics, extended to fifty pure substances. In C. Pfaffmann (Ed.), Olfaction and Taste III. New York: Rockefeller University Press, pp. 150–157.Google Scholar
  48. Laffort, P., F. Patte, and M. Etcheto (1974). Olfactory coding on the basis of physicochemical properties. Ann. NY Acad. Sci., 237, 193–208.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Laing, D.G. (1982). Characterization of human behaviour during odour perception. Perception, 11, 221–230.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Laing, D.G. (1983). Natural sniffing gives optimum odour perception for humans. Perception, 12, 99–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. LeMagnen, J. (1952). Les phénomènes olfacto-sexuels chez l’homme. Arch. Sci. Phys., 6, 125–160.Google Scholar
  52. Marks, L.E. (1968). Stimulus-range, number of categories, and the form of the category scale. Am. J. Psychol., 81, 467–479.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Marks, L.E., and J.C. Stevens (1968). The form of the psychophysical function near threshold. Percept. Psychophys., 4, 315–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Martin, S., and R.M. Pangborn (1970). A note on responses to ethyl alcohol before and after smoking. Percept. Psychophys., 8, 169–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Matzker, J. (1965). Riechen und Lebensalter—Riechen und Raucher. Urnschan, 65, 673.Google Scholar
  56. Moulton, D.G., G. Celebi, and R.P. Fink (1972). Olfaction in mammals—two aspects: proliferation of cells in the olfactory epithelium and sensitivity to odours. In G.E.W. Wolstenholme and J. Knight (Eds.), Taste and Smell in Vertebrates. London: Churchill, pp. 227–250.Google Scholar
  57. Mullins, L.J. (1955). Olfaction. Ann. NY Acad. Sci., 62, 247–276.Google Scholar
  58. Overbosch, P., R.A. de Wijk, T.J.R. de Jonge, and E.P. Köster (1989). Temporal integration and reaction times in human smell. Physiol. Behav., 145, 615–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pangborn, R.M., H.W. Berg, E.B. Roessler, and A.D. Webb (1964). Influence of methodology on olfactory response. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 18, 91–103.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Patte, F., M. Etcheto, and P. Laffort (1975). Selected and standardized values of suprathreshold odor intensities for 110 substances. Chem. Senses Flav., 1, 283–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Punter, P.H. (1983). Measurement of human olfactory thresholds for several groups of structurally related compounds. Chem. Senses, 7, 215–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rabin, M.D., and W.S. Cain (1986). Determinants of measured olfactory sensitivity. Percept. Psychophys., 39, 281–286.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sanders, G.R., R.A. Umbraco, S.A. Twiss, and P.K. Mueller (1970). The Measurement of Malodor in a Community by Dynamic Olfactometry, presented at Conference on Methods for Measuring and Evaluating Odorous Air Pollutants at the Source and in the Ambient Air, Stockholm.Google Scholar
  64. Schiet, F.T., and W.S. Cain (1990). Odor intensity of mixed and unmixed stimuli under environmentally realistic conditions. Perception, 19, 123–132.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stevens, J.C, and L.E. Marks (1980). Cross-modality matching functions generated by magnitude estimation. Percept. Psychophys., 27, 379–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stevens, J.C, A. Plantinga, and W.S. Cain (1982). Reduction of odor and nasal pungency associated with aging. Neurobiol. Aging, 3, 125–132.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Stevens, J.C, and W.S. Cain (1986). Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav., 37, 323–328.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Stevens, J.C, and W.S. Cain (1987). Old-age deficits in the sense of smell gauged by thresholds, magnitude matching, and odor identification. Psychol Aging, 2, 36–42.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stevens, J.C., W.S. Cain, and D.E. Weinstein (1987). Aging impairs the ability to detect gas odor. Fire Technology, 23, 198–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Stevens, S.S. (1956). The direct estimation of sensory magnitudes: loudness. Am. J. Psychol., 29, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Stevens, S.S. (1957). On the psychophysical law. Psychol. Rev., 64, 153–181.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stuiver, M. (1958). Biophysics of the Sense of Smell. Unpublished Doctoral thesis, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  73. van Gemert, L.J., and A.H. Nettenbreijer (1977). Compilation of Odour Threshold Values in Air and Water. Voorburg, Netherlands: National Institute for Water Supply.Google Scholar
  74. Venstrom, D., and J.E. Amoore (1968). Olfactory threshold in relation to age, sex or smoking. J. Food Sci., 33, 264–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. von Békésy, G. (1964). Olfactory analogue to directional hearing. J. Appl. Physiol., 19, 369–313.Google Scholar
  76. Wenzel, B.M. (1948). Techniques in olfactometry: A critical review of the last one hundred years. Psychol. Bull., 45, 231–247.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Woodrow, H., and B. Karpman (1917). A new olfactometric technique and some results. J. Exp. Psychol., 2, 431–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • William S. Cain
  • J. Enrique Cometto-Muñiz
  • René A. de Wijk

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations