Olfaction Warps Visual Time Perception

Cereb Cortex. 2018 May 1;28(5):1718-1728. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhx068.


Our perception of the world builds upon dynamic inputs from multiple senses with different temporal resolutions, and is threaded with the passing of subjective time. How time is extracted from multisensory inputs is scantly known. Utilizing psychophysical testing and electroencephalography, we show in healthy human adults that odors modulate object visibility around critical flicker-fusion frequency (CFF)-the limit at which chromatic flickers become perceived as a stable color-and effectively alter CFF in a congruency-based manner, despite that they afford no clear environmental temporal information. The behavioral gain produced by a congruent relative to an incongruent odor is accompanied by elevated neural oscillatory power around the object's flicker frequency in the right temporal region ~150-300 ms after object onset, and is not mediated by visual awareness. In parallel, odors bias the subjective duration of visual objects without affecting one's temporal sensitivity. These findings point to a neuronal network in the right temporal cortex that executes flexible temporal filtering of upstream visual inputs based on olfactory information. Moreover, they collectively indicate that the very process of sensory integration at the stage of object processing twists time perception, hence casting new insights into the neural timing of multisensory events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Flicker Fusion
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Semantics
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Spectrum Analysis
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult