Olfaction and face encoding in humans: a magnetoencephalographic study

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2003 Jan;15(2):105-15. doi: 10.1016/s0926-6410(02)00144-1.


Magnetic field changes were recorded while 20 healthy young participants performed a deep face encoding task. Some of the faces were randomly associated with a simultaneously presented odor. A recognition test, during which all faces were presented again together with the same number of new faces, followed. The task was to discriminate between repeated and new faces. During the recognition test no odor was presented. The recognition performance was significantly influenced by the simultaneously associated odor during the encoding phase. Faces associated with odor were less accurately recognized. In addition, we found significant physiological differences between 'encoded faces without odor' and 'encoded faces with odor'. In particular, two effects occurred. Between about 200 and 300 ms after stimulus onset 'encoded faces without odor' evoked higher brain activity than 'encoded faces with odor'. Between about 600 and 900 ms after stimulus onset 'encoded faces with odor' evoked higher brain activity than 'encoded faces without odor'. Whereas the latter effect is interpreted as reflecting conscious olfactory information processing, the earlier effect is suggested to reflect an odor influence on face encoding. We suggest that the simultaneous odor association distracted face encoding resulting in a significantly reduced recognition performance. These findings are suggested to represent evidence of multimodal sensoric interactions between visual face processing and olfactory information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Odorants*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Smell* / physiology