Olfaction modulates visual perception in binocular rivalry

Wen Zhou, Yi Jiang, Sheng He, Denise Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Vision is widely accepted as the dominant sense in larger primates including humans, whereas olfaction is often considered a vestigial sense yielding only obscure object representations [1]. It is well documented that vision drives olfactory perception [2, 3], but there has been little indication that olfaction could modulate visual perception. Here we introduce smells to a well-established visual phenomenon termed binocular rivalry, perceptual alternations that occur when distinctively different images are separately presented to the two eyes [4]. We show that an odorant congruent to one of the competing images prolongs the time that image is visible and shortens its suppression time in a manner that is automatic, essentially independent of cognitive control, and partly subconscious. Our findings provide the first direct evidence that an olfactory cue biases the dynamic process of binocular rivalry, thereby demonstrating olfactory modulation of visual perception - an effect that has been hitherto unsuspected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1356-1358
Number of pages3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 10 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jennifer Chen, Tracey Isidro, Shumaila Sarfani, and Li Wang for assistance. This work was supported by National Institute of Health grant R03DC4956, National Science Foundation grant BCS-0818588, and the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grants KSCX2-YW-R-250, KSCX2-YW-R-248, and 09CX192019).



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