Olfactory Perception in Infants

Contact Author Dr. Hilary J. Schmidt
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The research reported here was undertaken to develop new methodology for evaluating olfactory perception in infants. Prior research has shown that, while newborn infants are capable of making fine olfactory discrimination, adult-like odor preferences and aversions are not apparent until five years of age.

The failure to observe adult-like hedonic reactions prior to the age of five led to the claim that all odor preferences and aversions are acquired through experience. We believed, however, that the failure to observe adult-like hedonic reactions to odors in young children and infants may have been due, in part, to methods that were insensitive to some of the behavioral and communication limitations of young children.

Our goal was to explore age-appropriate methods for assessing infants’ reactions to odors and then to use these methods to investigate: 1) the origins of hedonic responses to odors, 2) the origins of sex differences in responsiveness to odors, and 3) the effect of odor on infant behavior.

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