Olfactory research in humans has largely focused on odors perceived via sniffing, orthonasal olfaction, whereas odors perceived from the mouth, retronasal olfaction, are less well understood. Prior work on retronasally presented odors involves animal models and focus mainly on odor sensitivity, but little is known about retronasal olfactory perception and cognition in humans. In this study, we compared orthonasal and retronasal odor presentation routes to investigate differences in odor descriptions and evaluations. Thirty-six individuals participated in a within-subjects study using twelve odors (varying in pleasantness and edibility) in perceptual and semantic tasks. Orthonasal presentation was associated with a better ability to identify odors, and with more concrete (and source-based) language. Exploratory analyses revealed that whereas orthonasal odors were described with words that had visual associations, retronasal odors were described with words that had interoceptive associations. Interestingly, these route-dependent differences in descriptor usage were not explained by differences in sensitivity and intensity, suggesting instead a cognitive and linguistic processing difference between odors presented orthonasally and retronasally. Our results indicate that olfaction is, in fact, a dual sense, in which the routes change the perception of an odor.

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