Journal Article

Psychometric Functions for Ternary Odor Mixtures and Their Unmixed Components

Toshio Miyazawa, Michelle Gallagher, George Preti and Paul M. Wise

in Chemical Senses

Volume 34, issue 9, pages 753-761
Published in print November 2009 | ISSN: 0379-864X
Published online September 2009 | e-ISSN: 1464-3553 | DOI:
Psychometric Functions for Ternary Odor Mixtures and Their Unmixed Components

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People are often able to reliably detect a mixture of 2 or more odorants, even if they cannot reliably detect the individual mixture components when presented individually. This phenomenon has been called mixture agonism. However, for some mixtures, agonism among mixture components is greater in barely detectable mixtures than in more easily detectable mixtures (level dependence). Most studies that have used rigorous methods have focused on simple, 2-component (binary) mixtures. The current work takes the next logical step to study detection of 3-component (ternary) mixtures. Psychometric functions were measured for 5 unmixed compounds and for 3 ternary mixtures of these compounds (2 of 5, forced-choice method). Experimenters used air dilution olfactometry to precisely control the duration and concentration of stimuli and used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to verify vapor-phase concentrations. For 2 of the 3 mixtures, agonism was approximately additive in general agreement with similar work on binary mixtures. A third mixture was no more detectable than the most detectable component, demonstrating a lack of agonism. None of the 3 mixtures showed evidence of level dependence. Agonism may be common in ternary mixtures, but general rules of mixture interaction have yet to emerge. For now, detection of any mixture must be measured empirically.

Keywords: mixture interaction; psychophysics; threshold

Journal Article.  5311 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Molecular and Cell Biology

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