Olfaction modulates visual perception in binocular rivalry

Curr Biol. 2010 Aug 10;20(15):1356-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.05.059. Epub 2010 Jul 1.


Vision is widely accepted as the dominant sense in larger primates including humans, whereas olfaction is often considered a vestigial sense yielding only obscure object representations [1]. It is well documented that vision drives olfactory perception [2, 3], but there has been little indication that olfaction could modulate visual perception. Here we introduce smells to a well-established visual phenomenon termed binocular rivalry, perceptual alternations that occur when distinctively different images are separately presented to the two eyes [4]. We show that an odorant congruent to one of the competing images prolongs the time that image is visible and shortens its suppression time in a manner that is automatic, essentially independent of cognitive control, and partly subconscious. Our findings provide the first direct evidence that an olfactory cue biases the dynamic process of binocular rivalry, thereby demonstrating olfactory modulation of visual perception-an effect that has been hitherto unsuspected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Olfactory Perception*
  • Vision, Binocular*
  • Young Adult