Hedonic Olfactory Perception in Depression: Relationship between Self-Evaluation and Autonomic Response


This study aimed to improve the understanding of hedonic perception in depression using the olfactory modality. We evaluated physiological (heart rate measures) and hedonic responses (subjective rating scale) obtained from 30 unipolar depressed inpatients and 30 healthy controls. The stimuli were two odorants with contrasting hedonic valence, vanillin (pleasant) and butyric acid (foul-smelling), presented at three different concentrations and in nine binary mixtures. Compared to controls, the depressed subjects had significantly increased heart rate response to olfactory stimuli, regardless of valence. These observations were not related to the severity of depression. For both groups, a significant negative correlation was found between the explicit hedonic rating and the implicit instantaneous heart rate measure. Together these pilot findings suggest that unipolar depression is associated with stronger physiological reactions to odorants and a negative bias when processing olfactory stimuli. Further studies are required to confirm these observations in larger groups of depressed subjects.

Share and Cite:

Atanasova, B. , Gaillard, P. , Minier, F. , Belzung, C. & El-Hage, W. (2012). Hedonic Olfactory Perception in Depression: Relationship between Self-Evaluation and Autonomic Response. Psychology, 3, 959-965. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.311144.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Alaoui-Isma?li, O., Robin, O., Rada, H., Dittmar, A., & Vernet-Maury, E. (1997a). Basic emotions evoked by odorants: comparison between autonomic responses and self-evaluation. Physiology & Behavior, 62, 713-720. doi:10.1016/S0031-9384(97)90016-0
[2] Alaoui-Isma?li, O., Vernet-Maury, E., Dittmar, A., Delhomme, G., & Chanel, J. (1997b). Odor hedonics: Connection with emotional re sponse estimated by autonomic parameters. Chemical Senses, 22, 237-248. doi:10.1093/chemse/22.3.237
[3] American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorder (4th ed.). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.
[4] Anderson, A. K., Christoff, K., Stappen, I., Panitz, D., Ghahremani, D. G., Glover, G., Gabrieli, J. D. E., & Sobel, N. (2003). Dissociated neural representations of intensity and valence in human olfaction. Nature Neuroscience, 6, 196-202. doi:10.1038/nn1001
[5] Atanasova, B., El-Hage, W., Chabanet, C., Gaillard, P., Belzung, C., & Camus, V. (2010). Olfactory anhedonia and negative olfactory alli esthesia in depressed patients. Psychiatry Research, 176, 190-196. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2008.11.016
[6] Bensafi, M., Rouby, C., Farget, V., Bertrand, B., Vigouroux, M., & Holley, A. (2002a). Influence of affective and cognitive judgments on autonomic parameters during inhalation of pleasant and un pleasant odors in humans. Neuroscience Letters, 319, 162-166. doi:10.1016/S0304-3940(01)02572-1
[7] Bensafi, M., Rouby, C., Farget, V., Bertrand, B., Vigouroux, M., & Holley, A. (2002b). Autonomic nervous system responses to odours: The role of pleasantness and arousal. Chemical Senses, 27, 703-709. doi:10.1093/chemse/27.8.703
[8] Bensafi, M., Rouby, C., Farget, V., Vigouroux, M., & Holley, A. (2002). Asymmetry of pleasant vs unpleasant odor processing during affective judgment in humans. Neuroscience Letters, 328, 309-313. doi:10.1016/S0304-3940(02)00548-7
[9] Berenbaum, H., & Oltmanns, T. F. (1992). Emotional experience and expression in schizophrenia and depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101, 37-44. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.101.1.37
[10] Bylsma, L. M., Morris, B. H, & Rottenberg, J. (2008). A meta-analysis of emotional reactivity in major depressive disorder. Clinical Psy chology Review, 28, 676-691. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.10.001
[11] Chapman, L. J., Chapman, J. P., & Raulin, M. L. (1976). Scales for physical and social anhedonia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85, 374-382. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.85.4.374
[12] Clepce, M., Gossler, A., Reich, K., Kornhuber, J., & Thuerauf, N. (2010). The relation between depression, anhedonia and olfactory hedonic estimates—A pilot study in major depression. Neuroscience Letters, 471, 139-143. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2010.01.027
[13] Cumming, A. G., Matthews, N. L., & Park, S. (2011). Olfactory identification and preference in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 261, 251 259. doi:10.1007/s00406-010-0145-7
[14] Drevets, W. C., Videen, T. O., Price, J. L., Preskorn, S. H., Carmichael, S. T., & Raichle, M. E. (1992). A functional anatomical study of unipolar depression. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 12, 3628-3641.
[15] Duburcq, A., Blin, P., Charpak, Y., Blachier, C., Allicar, M. P., Bou hassira, M., Hergueta, T., & Lecrubier, Y. (1999). Use of a structured diagnostic interview to identify depressive episodes in an epidemic ologic study: A posteriori internal validation. Revue d’épidémiologie et de santé publique, 47, 455-463.
[16] Ehrlichman, H., & Bastone, L. (1992). Olfaction and emotion. In M. Serby, & K. L. Chobor (Eds.), Science of olfaction (pp. 410-438). Springer-Verlag, New York. doi:10.1007/978-1-4612-2836-3_15
[17] Fawcett, J., Clark, D. C., Scheftner, W. A., & Gibbons R. D. (1983). Assessing anhedonia in psychiatric patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 40, 79-84. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1983.01790010081010
[18] Frye, R. E., Schwartz, B. S., & Doty, R. L. (1990). Dose-related effects of cigarette smoking on olfactory function. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 263, 1233-1236. doi:10.1001/jama.263.9.1233
[19] Gorwood, P. (2008). Neurobiological mechanisms of anhedonia. Dia logues in Clinical Neuroscience, 10, 291-299.
[20] Kaviani, H., Gray, J., Checkley, S., Raven, P., Wilson, G., & Kumari, V. (2004). Affective modulation of the startle response in depression: influence of the severity of depression, anhedonia, and anxiety. Journal of Affective Disorders, 83, 21-31. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2004.04.007
[21] Keedwell, P. A., Andrew, C., Williams, S. C. R., Brammer, M. J., & Phillips, M. L. (2005). The neural correlates of anhedonia in major depressive disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 58, 843-853. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.05.019
[22] Lehofer, M., Moser, M., Hoehn-Saric, R., McLeod, D., Liebmann, P., Drnovsek, B., Egner, S., Hildebrandt, G., & Zapotoczky H. G. (1997). Major depression and cardiac autonomic control. Biological Psy chiatry, 42, 914-919. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(96)00494-5
[23] Lesser, I. M., Mena, I., Boone, K. B., Miller, B. L., Mehringer, C. M., & Wohl, M. (1994). Reduction of cerebral blood flow in older depressed patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 51, 677-686. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1994.03950090009002
[24] Lombion-Pouthier, S., Vandel, P., Nezelof, S., Haffen, E., & Millot, J. L. (2006). Odor perception in patients with mood disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 90, 187-191. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2005.11.012
[25] Martzke, J. S., Kopala, L. C., & Good, K. P. (1997). Olfactory dysfunc tion in neuropsychiatric disorders: Review and methodological con siderations. Biological Psychiatry, 42, 721-732. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(96)00442-8
[26] Montgomery, S. A., & Asberg, M. (1979). A new depression scale designed to be sensitive to change. The British Journal of Psychiatry: The Journal of Mental Science, 134, 382-389. doi:10.1192/bjp.134.4.382
[27] Moskowitz, H. R., Dravnieks, A., & Klarman, L. A. (1976). Odor in tensity and pleasantness for a diverse set of odorants. Perception & Psychophysics, 19, 122-128. doi:10.3758/BF03204173
[28] Pause, B. M., Raack, N., Sojka, B., G?der, R., Aldenhoff, J. B., & Ferstl, R. (2003). Convergent and divergent effects of odors and emotions in depression. Psychophysiology, 40, 209-225. doi:10.1111/1469-8986.00023
[29] Pause, B. M., Miranda, A., G?der, R., Aldenhoff, J. B., & Ferstl, R. (2001). Reduced olfactory performance in patients with major de pression. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 35, 271-277. doi:10.1016/S0022-3956(01)00029-2
[30] Siegle, G., Granholm, E., Ingram, R. E., & Matt, G. E. (2001). Pupil lary and reaction time measures of sustained processing of negative information in depression. Biological Psychiatry, 49, 624-636. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(00)01024-6
[31] Sloan, D. M., Strauss, M. E., Quirk, S. W., & Sajatovic, M. (1997). Subjective and expressive emotional responses in depression. Jour nal of Affective Disorders, 46, 135-141. doi:10.1016/S0165-0327(97)00097-9
[32] Sloan, D. M., & Sandt, A. R. (2010). Depressed mood and emotional responding. Biological Psychology, 84, 368-374. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2010.04.004
[33] Soussignan, R., Schaal, B., Marlier, L., & Jiang, T. (1997). Facial and autonomic responses to biological and artificial olfactory stimuli in human neonates: Re-examining early hedonic discrimination of odors. Physiology & Behavior, 62, 745-758. doi:10.1016/S0031-9384(97)00187-X
[34] Swiecicki, L., Zatorski, P., Bzinkowska, D., Sienkiewicz-Jarosz, H., Szyndler, J., & Scinska, A. (2009). Gustatory and olfactory function in patients with unipolar and bipolar depression. Progress in Neuro Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 33, 827-834. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2009.03.030
[35] Thomas, H. J., Fries, W., & Distel, H. (2002). Evaluation of olfactory stimuli by depressed patients. Der Nervenarzt, 73, 71-77. doi:10.1007/s115-002-8150-9
[36] Vernet-Maury, E., Alaoui-Isma?li, O., Dittmar, A., Delhomme, G., & Chanel, J. (1999). Basic emotions induced by odorants: A new ap proach based on autonomic pattern results. Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System, 75, 176-183. doi:10.1016/S0165-1838(98)00168-4
[37] Zatorre, R. J., Jones-Gotman, M., & Rouby, C. (2000). Neural me chanisms involved in odor pleasantness and intensity judgments. Neuroreport, 11, 2711-2716. doi:10.1097/00001756-200008210-00021

Copyright © 2022 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.