The perception of odor pleasantness is shared across cultures

Artin Arshamian, Richard C. Gerkin, Nicole Kruspe, Ewelina Wnuk, Simeon Floyd, Carolyn O'Meara, Gabriela Garrido Rodriguez, Johan N. Lundström, Joel D. Mainland, Asifa Majid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Humans share sensory systems with a common anatomical blueprint, but individual sensory experience nevertheless varies. In olfaction, it is not known to what degree sensory perception, particularly the perception of odor pleasantness, is founded on universal principles,1–5 dictated by culture,6–13 or merely a matter of personal taste.6,8–10,12,14 To address this, we asked 225 individuals from 9 diverse nonwestern cultures—hunter-gatherer to urban dwelling—to rank the monomolecular odorants from most to least pleasant. Contrary to expectations, culture explained only 6% of the variance in pleasantness rankings, whereas individual variability or personal taste explained 54%. Importantly, there was substantial global consistency, with molecular identity explaining 41% of the variance in odor pleasantness rankings. Critically, these universal rankings were predicted by the physicochemical properties of out-of-sample molecules and out-of-sample pleasantness ratings given by a tenth group of western urban participants. Taken together, this shows human olfactory perception is strongly constrained by universal principles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2061-2066.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 9 2022


  • cross-cultural
  • cultural relativity
  • hunter-gatherer
  • odor perception
  • odor pleasantness
  • physicochemical
  • subsistence
  • universal
  • valence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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