Titrating the smell of fear: Initial evidence for dose-invariant behavioral, physiological, and neural responses
SourcePsychological Science, 32, 4, (2021), pp. 558-572
Article / Letter to editor
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SubjectBehaviour Change and Well-being
It is well accepted that emotional intensity scales with stimulus strength. Here, we used physiological and neuroimaging techniques to ask whether human body odor - which can convey salient social information - also induces dose-dependent effects on behavior, physiology, and neural responses. To test this, we first collected sweat from 36 males classified as low, medium, and high fear responders. Next, in a double-blind, within-subjects fMRI design, 31 females were exposed to three doses of fear-associated human chemosignals (vs. neutral sweat) while viewing face morphs varying between expressions of fear and disgust. Behaviorally we found that all doses of fear sweat volatiles biased subjects towards perceiving fear in ambiguous morphs, a dose-invariant effect generally repeated across physiological and neural measures. Bayesian dose-response analysis indicated moderate evidence for the null (except left amygdala), tentatively suggesting that the human olfactory system above all engages an all-or-none mechanism for tagging fear above a minimal threshold.
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