Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Sensory information is initially registered within anatomically and functionally segregated brain networks but is also integrated across modalities in higher cortical areas. Although considerable research has focused on uncovering the neural correlates of multisensory integration for the modalities of vision, audition, and touch, much less attention has been devoted to understanding interactions between vision and olfaction in humans. In this study, we asked how odors affect neural activity evoked by images of familiar visual objects associated with characteristic smells. We employed scalp-recorded EEG to measure visual ERPs evoked by briefly presented pictures of familiar objects, such as an orange, mint leaves, or a rose. During presentation of each visual stimulus, participants inhaled either a matching odor, a nonmatching odor, or plain air. The N1 component of the visual ERP was significantly enhanced for matching odors in women, but not in men. This is consistent with evidence that women are superior in detecting, discriminating, and identifying odors and that they have a higher gray matter concentration in olfactory areas of the OFC. We conclude that early visual processing is influenced by olfactory cues because of associations between odors and the objects that emit them, and that these associations are stronger in women than in men.