How chemical information processing interferes with face processing: a magnetoencephalographic study

Neuroimage. 2005 Jan 1;24(1):111-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.09.030.


Magnetic field changes related to face encoding were recorded in 20 healthy young participants. Faces had to be deeply encoded under four kinds of simultaneous nasal chemical stimulation. Neutral room air, phenyl ethyl alcohol (PEA, rose flavor), carbon dioxide (CO2, pain), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S, rotten eggs flavor) were used as chemical stimuli. PEA and H2S represented odor stimuli, whereas CO2 was used for trigeminal stimulation (pain sensation). After the encoding of faces, the respective recognition performances were tested focusing on recognition effects related to specific chemical stimulation during encoding. The number of correctly recognized faces (hits) varied between chemical conditions. PEA stimulation during face encoding significantly increased the number of hits compared to the control condition. H2S also led to an increased mean number of hits, whereas simultaneous CO2 administration during face encoding resulted in a reduction. Analysis of the physiological data revealed two latency regions of interest. Compared to the control condition, both olfactory stimulus conditions resulted in reduced activity components peaking at about 260 ms after stimulus onset, whereas CO2 produced a strongly pronounced enhanced activity component peaking at about 700 ms after stimulus onset. Both olfactory conditions elicited only weak enhanced activities at about 700 ms, and CO2 did not show any difference activity at 260 ms after stimulus onset compared to the control condition. It is concluded that the early activity differences represent subconscious olfactory information processing leading to enhanced memory performances irrespective of the hedonic value, at least if they are only subconsciously processed. The later activity is suggested to reflect conscious CO2 perception negatively affecting face encoding and therefore leading to reduced subsequent face recognition. We interpret that conscious processing of nasal chemical stimulation competes with deep face encoding with respect to cortical resources, whereas subconscious processing of nasal chemical stimulation does not.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetoencephalography*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Nasal Mucosa / innervation
  • Nociceptors / physiology*
  • Olfactory Nerve / physiology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology