Julie Walsh-Messinger, Ph.D.
There is significant overlap in the neural structures involved in the human limbic (emotion) and olfactory systems, and prior research findings have suggested both positive and negative associations between anxiety and odor detection sensitivity (threshold), odor identification accuracy, and odor hedonic ratings (Havlicek et al., 2012; Krusemark et al., 2013). However, knowledge about whether anxiety causes changes in olfactory perception remains unclear due to limited research findings. The present study aimed to extend the literature on olfaction and state anxiety by investing the impact of an anxiety induction on odor detection sensitivity, odor identification accuracy, and odor hedonic ratings. It was hypothesized that postinduction: 1) Participants in the anxiety induction group would exhibit a significant decrease in postinduction odor detection sensitivity scores, show a significant increase in their post-induction odor identification accuracy scores, would rate odors that are normatively neutral as more unpleasant postinduction. The sample included 46 undergraduate students at a Midwestern university who were assigned to one of two conditions: 1) an anxiety induction paradigm that involved autobiographical recall of a stressful event (N = 22) and a free-form coloring control task (N = 24). Before and after both conditions, participants completed a self-report measure of state and trait anxiety, and underwent assessments of odor detection sensitivity, odor identification, and hedonic response to odor. The anxiety-induction paradigm did not work as predicted; however, results suggest that the free-form coloring control condition significantly reduced state-anxiety scores post-induction. Exploratory analyses revealed that reduced state-anxiety levels in the control group resulted in an increase in an odor identification. No changes were observed for odor detection sensitivity and hedonic ratings. Results suggest that which free-form coloring may have a stress-relieving effect within the young adult population, and further support the presence of olfaction-anxiety interaction. Future research should take care to examine the impact of anxiety-reduction on an individual’s odor detection sensitivity and hedonic ratings.
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Olson, Lauren T., "The Effects of Anxiety Induction on Olfactory Function in Healthy Young Adults" (2018). Honors Theses. 177.