Identification of single dissimilar odors is achieved by humans with a single sniff

Physiol Behav. 1986;37(1):163-70. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(86)90400-2.


The duration that a single odor needs to be sniffed for identification was determined for 18 humans. A hot wire anemometer and an oscilloscope were used to monitor the duration, volume and inhalation rate of sniffs. In Experiment 1 subjects used 1, 3 or 5 natural sniffs, or an unlimited number of natural sniffs to sample seven dissimilar single odors of moderate perceived intensity, and demonstrated that each odor could be identified with a single sniff. In Experiment 2 subjects demonstrated that each of the odors could be identified with the shortest sniff (0.42 sec) they could physically achieve. In Experiment 3 tests with two of the odorants at several concentrations showed that sniff duration influences identification over a narrow range of concentrations that is just above the recognition threshold. These results together with earlier data that described the optimum conditions for the detection of an odor and the perception of odor intensity, provide information that is necessary for the development of a standard olfactometer and standard methods for human olfactory measurements.

MeSH terms

  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Odorants
  • Psychophysics
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Smell*