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Learning to Smell

Olfactory Perception from Neurobiology to Behavior

Donald A. Wilson and Richard J. Stevenson

Publication Year: 2006

Written by a neurobiologist and a psychologist, this volume presents a new theory of olfactory perception. Drawing on research in neuroscience, physiology, and ethology, Donald A. Wilson and Richard J. Stevenson address the fundamental question of how we navigate through a world of chemical encounters and provide a compelling alternative to the "reception-centric" view of olfaction. The major research challenge in olfaction is determining how the brain discriminates one smell from another. Here, the authors hold that olfaction is generally not a simple physiochemical process, but rather a plastic process that is strongly tied to memory. They find the traditional approach—which involves identifying how particular features of a chemical stimulus are represented in the olfactory system—to be at odds with historical data and with a growing body of neurobiological and psychological evidence that places primary emphasis on synthetic processing and experiential factors. Wilson and Stevenson propose that experience and cortical plasticity not only are important for traditional associative olfactory memory but also play a critical, defining role in odor perception and that current views are insufficient to account for current and past data. The book includes a broad comparative overview of the structure and function of olfactory systems, an exploration into the mechanisms of odor detection and olfactory perception, and a discussion of the implications of the authors' theory. Learning to Smell will serve as an important reference for workers within the field of chemical senses and those interested in sensory processing and perception.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Preface

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pp. vii-ix

This book represents a rather unusual collaboration between a neurobiologist and a psychologist that grew out of the similarities emerging between physiological and psychophysical research in olfaction. The major problemin olfactory behavioral neuroscience is to determine how the brain discriminates one smell, or perceptual odor, from another. Olfactory and chemical...

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1. The Function of the Olfactory System in Animals and Humans

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pp. 1-9

Smell this book. Seriously, close your eyes, bring the pages of the book to your nose and inhale.* Volatile molecules from the pages, the binding glue, the cover, and, depending on the age of the book at this reading, the accumulated dust and debris of storage enter your nose (via the external nares) and pass over your olfactory receptor sheet on their way to your...

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2. A Historical and Comparative Perspective on Theoretical Approaches to Olfaction

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pp. 10-34

The search for systematic relationships between the physical characteristics of a chemical stimulus and the percept that results from smelling it has been pursued with two quite different goals in mind. The first is that of being able to identify ingredients for use in the flavor and fragrance industry. This approach focuses on understanding how natural odorants come to smell as they do, identifying their components, and then synthesizing chemical analogues to improve...

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3. Receptive Mechanisms

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pp. 35-63

Odor perception is the consequence of computations occurring within the primary olfactory structures and interactions within and between a myriad of other nonolfactory systems. As a starting point for understanding how the olfactory system functions, we will examine two things. First, we must have a firm understanding of the olfactory stimulus...

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4. The Relationship between Stimulus Intensity and Perceptual Quality

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pp. 64-75

Odor perception is the consequence of computations occurring within the primary olfactory structures and interactions within and between a myriad of other nonolfactory systems. As a starting point for understanding how the olfactory system functions, we will examine two things. First, we must have a firm understanding of the olfactory stimulus and how stimulus...

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5. Odor Quality Discrimination in Nonhuman Animals

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pp. 76-132

As discussed briefly in chapter 1, olfaction, and chemosensation in general,plays a major role in day-to-day survival of all animals. Chemical cues areused for finding food, identifying mates and recognizing kin, avoiding predators, and, for many species, aid in territorial marking, homing, and navigation. Examples include the use of odorants by birds and bees...

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6. Odor Quality Discrimination in Humans

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pp. 133-187

One way to assess the function of olfaction in humans is to examine the consequences of its loss. Humans rely primarily on vision and audition, and so the sense of smell assumes far less importance relative to many other animals.Thus, although blindness or deafness are serious disabilities, anosmia exertsmore subtle effects. These include (1) vocational problems where the sense...

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7. Odor Memory

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pp. 188-242

To this point, we have been concerned with the role of memory in odor object recognition and hedonics. A whole range of other information-processing tasks exists that rely on memory, and the purpose of this chapter is to examine and interconnect them with the object recognition process that we have alluded to...

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8. Implications

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pp. 243-263

Thomas Kuhn (1962), in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions notes that facts are not like pebbles on the beach waiting to be picked up. Rather, he argues, how observations are interpreted (and thus become facts) is based on the theoretical viewpoint and resulting expectations of the viewer. Kuhn’s argument has dual relevance here. First, we posit that smells (like facts) are not like molecules...

Bibliography

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pp. 265-297

Index

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pp. 299-309


E-ISBN-13: 9780801888946
E-ISBN-10: 0801888948
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801883682
Print-ISBN-10: 0801883687

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 6 halftones, 26 line drawings
Publication Year: 2006