Human electroencephalographic (EEG) response to olfactory stimulation: two experiments using the aroma of food

Int J Psychophysiol. 1998 Nov;30(3):287-302. doi: 10.1016/s0167-8760(98)00025-7.


The present studies sought to examine the effect of olfactory stimulation on human Central Nervous System activity. In the first experiment (n = 21), EEG response to the 'synthetic' odours of chocolate, spearmint, almond, strawberry, vegetable, garlic and onion, and cumin or no odour was recorded from 19 electrodes (F3, F4, F7, F8, Fz, T3, T4, T5, T6, P3, P4, Pz, O1, O2, C3, C4, Cz) in all EEG frequencies (delta, theta, alpha, beta1 and beta2). Exposure to the odour of chocolate was associated with significant reductions in theta activity when compared with the odours of almond and cumin, with a trend towards significance when compared with no-odour control. Exposure to the odour of spearmint was associated with a significant reduction in EEG theta when compared with the no-odour control. No significant effects were observed in other frequencies. In a second experiment (n = 15), EEG response to the odours of real foods (chocolate, baked beans, rotting pork) and two controls (no odour and hot water) was recorded as in Experiment 1. The odour of chocolate was associated with significantly less theta activity than was any other stimulus. It is hypothesised that the alterations in theta reflect shifts in attention or cognitive load during olfactory perception, with a reduction in theta indicating a reduced level of attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cacao
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm