The Effect of Depersonalization and Derealization Symptoms on Olfaction and Olfactory Hedonics

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Clinical Psychology


Advisor: Julie Walsh-Messinger


Depersonalization and derealization symptoms affect sensation, perception, and emotion, producing subjective experiences of unreality and affective numbing (Simeon, 2004). Abnormalities in the amygdala, which is associated with emotional reactions such as anxiety and fear (LeDoux, 1993), have been observed in depersonalization and derealization and other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression (Sierra & Berrios, 1998). Olfactory deficits have been posited as a potential marker for psychiatric disorders, including depression (Atanasova, 2008), which may be related to the close neural connections between the olfaction system and the amygdala (Stockhorst & Pietrowsky, 2004). However, no previous studies have examined the relationship between depersonalization/derealization and olfactory functioning. Thus, this study investigated whether depersonalization and derealization symptom severity was correlated with odor identification ability, odor detection threshold, and hedonic ratings of odors in an undergraduate sample (N = 92). It was hypothesized that: 1) odor identification ability would be negatively correlated with reported depersonalization and derealization symptoms; 2) odor detection threshold would be positively correlated with depersonalization and derealization symptoms; and 3) both pleasantness and unpleasantness ratings of odors would be negatively correlated with depersonalization and derealization symptoms. Participants (N = 92) were administered two olfaction testing batteries, and completed self-report measures of depersonalization, depression, and anxiety. Results did not support the main hypotheses. Exploratory analyses revealed a significant sex by depersonalization interaction for odor identification ability, indicating that females with higher levels of depersonalization were less able to correctly identify odorants. Future research in clinical samples is needed to confirm this interaction.


Clinical Psychology, depersonalization, derealization, depersonalization-derealization disorder, dissociation, olfaction, olfactory hedonics

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Copyright © 2018, author