fMRI of emotional responses to odors: Influence of hedonic valence and judgment, handedness, and gender

Jean P. Royet, Jane Plailly, Chantal Delon-Martin, David A. Kareken, Christoph Segebarth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

250 Scopus citations


Previous positron emission tomography studies of right-handed individuals show that the left orbitofrontal cortex is dominant during emotional processing of odors. We collected functional magnetic resonance imaging data from 28 subjects to study this network as a function of odor hedonic valence (pleasant vs. unpleasant), active hedonic judgments versus passive sensation of hedonically charged odors, handedness, and gender. Two functional runs were performed, with pleasant and unpleasant odors presented in different epochs. In the first run, subjects passively smelled odorants, whereas in the second run they rated degree of odor pleasantness or unpleasantness by using a "finger-span" technique that simulated a visual rating scale. Electrodermal and plethysmography responses were simultaneously recorded to control for covert, physiological manifestations of the emotional response. The piriform-amygdala area and ventral insula were activated more for unpleasant than pleasant odors. More extreme ratings were also associated with higher electrodermal amplitude, suggesting that activation stemmed more from emotional or hedonic intensity than valence, and that unpleasant odors induced more arousal than pleasant odors. Unpleasant odors activated the left ventral insula in right-handers and the right ventral insula in left-handers, suggesting lateralized processing of emotional odors as a function of handedness. Active decisions about odor pleasantness induced specific left orbitofrontal cortex activation, implicating the role of this area in the conscious assessment of the emotional quality of odors. Finally, left orbitofrontal cortex was more active in women than men, potentially in relation to women's well-documented advantage in odor identification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-728
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2003


  • FMRI
  • Gender
  • Handedness
  • Hedonic judgment
  • Hedonic valence
  • Olfactory emotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology

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