Variation in complex olfactory stimuli and its influence on odour recognition

Geraldine A. Wright, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Natural olfactory stimuli are often complex and highly variable. The olfactory systems of animals are likely to have evolved to use specific features of olfactory stimuli for identification and discrimination. Here, we train honeybees to learn chemically defined odorant mixtures that systematically vary from trial to trial and then examine how they generalize to each odorant present in the mixture. An odorant that was present at a constant concentration in a mixture becomes more representative of the mixture than other variable odorants. We also show that both variation and intensity of a complex olfactory stimulus affect the rate of generalization by honeybees to subsequent olfactory stimuli. These results have implications for the way that all animals perceive and attend to features of olfactory stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-152
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1535
StatePublished - Jan 22 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Generalization
  • Honeybee
  • Natural stimulus
  • Odour recognition
  • Olfactory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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