Discriminating parts from the whole: determinants of odor mixture perception in squirrel monkeys, Saimiri sciureus

J Comp Physiol A. 1993 Aug;173(2):249-56. doi: 10.1007/BF00192984.


In a task designed to simulate olfactory-guided foraging, the ability of squirrel monkeys to discriminate an artificial 12-component odorant from 3-, 6-, 9- or 11-component submixtures was investigated. A combination of factors was found to contribute to the animals' performance: 1. Discriminability generally decreased as the number of components in the submixture increased. 2. Submixtures did not contribute equally to mixture perception, and one component in particular (cineole) disproportionately influenced stimulus discriminability. 3. Interactive effects between submixtures resulted in marked deviations from the general pattern of discriminability. 4. Changes in the relative concentration of submixtures could also influence discriminability. 5. Finally, individual differences in responsiveness to particular stimuli were apparent. These findings demonstrate that the interaction between components in odor mixtures can be complex and that seemingly small changes in composition can strongly affect perception and thus potential signal function. It is therefore suggested that in future investigations of squirrel monkey semiochemistry, the method of systematically varying submixtures may be particularly useful in defining the contribution of components to a signal.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cyclohexanols*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Eucalyptol
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menthol / analogs & derivatives
  • Menthol / pharmacology
  • Monoterpenes*
  • Odorants
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Saimiri / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Terpenes*


  • Cyclohexanols
  • Monoterpenes
  • Terpenes
  • Menthol
  • Eucalyptol