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Study: Odor Identification Takes Time

Posted: August 9, 2006

A new study by researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center (Philadelphia) presented in the journal Neuron argues that odor discrimination in mice takes a little extra time. This was especially so for the accurate identification of complex scents. (Full abstract presented below.) Researchers found that the duration of exposure was directly related to accurate odor identification. While the logic of the findings appears obvious, the research is a stepping stone toward the analysis of what the brain is actually doing as it processes scents.

Full abstract for "Speed-Accuracy Tradeoff in Olfaction (authors: Dmitry Rinberg, Alexei Koulakov and Alan Gelperin):

The basic psychophysical principle of speed-accuracy tradeoff (SAT) has been used to understand key aspects of neuronal information processing in vision and audition, but the principle of SAT is still debated in olfaction. In this study we present the direct observation of SAT in olfaction. We developed a behavioral paradigm for mice in which both the duration of odorant sampling and the difficulty of the odor discrimination task were controlled by the experimenter. We observed that the accuracy of odor discrimination increases with the duration of imposed odorant sampling, and that the rate of this increase is slower for harder tasks. We also present a unifying picture of two previous, seemingly disparate experiments on timing of odorant sampling in odor discrimination tasks. The presence of SAT in olfaction provides strong evidence for temporal integration in olfaction and puts a constraint on models of olfactory processing.