You See What You Smell: Preferential Processing of Chemosensory Satiety Cues and Its Impact on Body Shape Perception

Brain Sci. 2021 Aug 30;11(9):1152. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11091152.


The current study examines neural responses to satiety- and fasting-related volatiles and their effect on the processing of body shapes. Axillary sweat was sampled with cotton pads from 10 individuals after 12 h of fasting, and after having consumed a standard breakfast. Pure cotton pads served as the control. The chemosensory stimuli were presented to 20 participants (via a constant-flow olfactometer) exclusively, and additionally as context to images of overweight and underweight avatars. EEG was recorded (61 electrodes), and chemosensory (CSERPs; P1, N1, P2, P3) and visual event-related potentials (VERPs; N1, P2, P3a, P3b) were analyzed. The amplitudes of all positive CSERP components differed more strongly from cotton in response to chemosensory satiety cues as compared to fasting cues (P1: p = 0.023, P2: p = 0.083, P3: p = 0.031), paralleled by activity within the middle frontal and temporal gyrus. Overweight compared to underweight body shapes tended to elicit larger VERP P2 amplitudes (p = 0.068), and chemosensory satiety cues amplified the VERP amplitudes in response to any body shape (P2, P3a, P3b; all ps ≤ 0.017) as compared to the cotton control. The results indicate that chemosensory satiety cues transmit complex social information, overriding the processing of analogous visual input.

Keywords: BMI; body odors; chemosensory communication; chemosensory cues; diet; event-related potentials; fasting; metabolic state; olfaction; satiety.