In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Olfaction

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Professional Organizations and Publications
  • Functions of Olfaction and/or Quality of Life
  • History and Theories of Olfaction
  • Language and Olfaction
  • Olfactory Memory and Emotion
  • Hedonics
  • Sex Differences
  • Development of Olfaction in Children
  • Aging and Olfaction
  • Covid-19 and Olfaction

Psychology Human Olfaction
Leslie Cameron, Richard Doty
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0292


Olfaction, or sense of smell, is one of the many sensory/perceptual systems that humans use to process external stimuli. Human olfaction is relatively understudied. More literature has focused on olfaction in animals for which olfaction plays a larger role in critical functioning and survival. This bibliography provides key resources for information about human olfaction and then outlines twelve general topics that are of considerable value to understanding this primary sensory system. It begins by providing some general resources that outline the functions of olfaction in humans. Next, it explores the anatomy and physiology of the human olfactory system, recognizing that our understanding has been largely guided by studying animals. It addresses several important theories of human olfaction, including ones that have attempted to understand the initial receptor-level processing of stimuli and ones that have been developed to explain the whole system. After considering some historical issues in studying olfaction, it outlines the various ways that human olfaction is studied. It considers some issues in olfaction that are related to cognitive processes, such as language and memory. A critical topic in the chemical senses of smell and taste that is somewhat less relevant in other sensory systems is that of hedonics (pleasure or liking). This bibliography explores sex differences, which, though small, seem to be more prevalent than in other sensory systems. In addition, this bibliography explores the effect of age on olfaction, both in terms of the development of olfaction in children and the decline of olfaction in aging. The entry ends with clinical implications, primarily of smell loss. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought newfound appreciation for the importance of sense of smell in human experience, a summary of the effect of Covid-19 on human sense of smell is included. In this bibliography pioneering studies are emphasized, although reviews are included in cases where the literature is too extensive to be summed up by single studies.

General Overviews

There are several relatively comprehensive books that provide excellent overviews of topics related to the human sense of smell. Buettner 2017 and Doty 2015 cover primarily basic research topics whereas Lawless and Heymann 2010 addresses clinical and applied topics. Hawkes and Doty 2018 and Doty 2019 focus to a large degree, but not entirely, on clinical aspects of chemosensation. Wolfe, et al. 2021 is a textbook on sensation and perception that includes a chapter on olfaction offering a short and solid introduction at the undergraduate level. Dravnieks 1982 provides a catalog of odor character profiles.

  • Buettner, A., ed. 2017. Springer handbook of odor. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    This is a comprehensive guide to olfaction with chapters that range from molecular to cultural aspects of human olfaction. It is unique in that it draws on the knowledge of experts from a wide range of fields.

  • Doty, R. L. 2019. Handbook of clinical neurology: Smell & taste. Vol. 164. New York: Elsevier.

    The twenty-four chapters of this volume review anatomical, behavioral, clinical, physiological, and epidemiological aspects of the olfactory (and taste) systems. Included are chapters on ontogeny, molecular genetics, and clinical conditions such as head trauma and neurodegenerative disease. A review of current treatments for smell and taste disorders is also included.

  • Doty, R. L., ed. 2015. Handbook of olfaction and gustation. 3d ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.

    Includes twenty-six chapters on topics in olfaction, ranging from biological mechanisms to clinical applications. A number of these chapters are cited in this bibliography.

  • Dravnieks, A. 1982. Atlas of odor character profiles. Philadelphia: ASTM Press.

    This volume provides characteristics of hundreds of odors using 146 descriptors such as woody, burnt, herbal, and sweet.

  • Hawkes, C. H., and R. L. Doty. 2018. Smell and taste disorders. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781139192446

    This 417-page book addresses not only the anatomy and physiology of both the senses of smell and taste, but their measurement and the impact of both neurodegenerative and non-neurodegenerative diseases on these important senses.

  • Lawless, H. T., and H. Heymann. 2010. Sensory evaluation of food: Principles and practices. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Science & Business Media.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-6488-5

    Appropriate for food scientists and both undergraduate and graduate students who wish to apply the basic science of chemosensory perception to daily life and consumer behavior. It ultimately presents how data are gathered and understood in food science.

  • Wolfe, J. M., K. R. Kluender, D. M. Levi, et al. 2021. Sensation & Perception. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    An undergraduate textbook with chapters written by experts in each sensory system. The chapter on olfaction by Rachel Herz provides an excellent, short background for readers new to this field.

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