Sex-Specific Bias and Olfactory Perception

University essay from Umeå universitet/Institutionen för psykologi

Abstract: Society would tell us that women have a superior sense of smell compared to men, but studies on innate olfactory ability have failed to verify these results. Perhaps women outperform men on some tests of olfactory ability due to the effect of a societal bias on perception, instead. The goal of this study was to determine if the presence of a sex-specific societal bias could affect an individual’s olfactory perception by influencing an individual to both rate an olfactory stimulus in line with the presented bias while also perceiving a noticeable difference according to the bias’s expectations. During both biased and unbiased conditions, 32 adults (women, n =16) were asked to smell and rate a set of 20 flasks all containing the same concentration of butanol. The biased scores were the same for both sexes with only the presentation of the bias changing. Participants were also asked to answer a follow-up survey tasked at determining why they rated to two conditions differently. The results showed that participants tended to rate in line with the sex-specific bias for measures of intensity. No difference for intensity scores were observed between the sexes. All 32 participants marked on the follow-up survey that they rated differently between conditions, with the majority of them indicating that they did perceive the biased condition as more intense. The results from this experiment provide support for the hypothesis that the presence of a societal bias can potentially affect how an individual perceives an olfactory stimulus.

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