Odor frequency and odor annoyance. Part I: assessment of frequency, intensity and hedonic tone of environmental odors in the field

  • Kirsten Sucker
  • Ralf Both
  • Michael Bischoff
  • Rainer Guski
  • Gerhard Winneke
Original Article



Odors can be evaluated as being pleasant or unpleasant (hedonic tone), but this differentiation was not incorporated into environmental odor regulation. In order to study the hedonic-induced modification of dose–response associations for community odor annoyance a pertinent field study was conducted. This paper covers the first step, namely the development and validation of a standardized human observation strategy for the direct quantification of the frequency, intensity, and hedonic tone of environmental odors in the field.


Grids with equidistant observation points were located around six industrial odor sources, two with pleasant (sweets, rusk bakery), two with neutral (textile production, seed oil production), and two with unpleasant odor emissions (fat refinery, cast iron production). These points were visited by trained observers, screened for normal olfaction and reliable performance, in a systematic fashion for an observation time of 10 min duration. Exposure-related information from the observers in terms of frequency, intensity (six-point scale) and hedonic tone (nine-point scale) were compared to that of 1,456 residents using the same rating scales.


Residents evaluated the industrial odors more intense and more unpleasant than the panelists. Furthermore, for the residents only negative relations between odor intensity and hedonic tone were found while for the observer pleasant odor became more pleasant with increasing intensity. Instead of three classes of industrial odors, namely pleasant, neutral and unpleasant, the responses allowed only for two odor classes, namely pleasant and not pleasant, the latter also covering the neutral category.


The developed methodology has been shown to yield valid information about odor exposure in the field. With regard to different application settings the discrepancies between external observers and affected residents are discussed in terms of different information processing strategies, namely stimulus-based (bottom-up) for the panel and memory-based and, thus, subject to cognitive bias for the residents (top-down).


Odor perception Frequency Intensity Hedonic tone Field study 



This research was partly supported by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, Agriculture and Consumer Protection of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (MUNLV NRW) and the Ministry of the Environment and Traffic of the State of Baden-Württemberg (UVM BW), and by the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI). We would like to thank Dr. Ursula Krämer (IUF, Düsseldorf) for statistical and epidemiological advice, Frank Müller and Hans-Georg Bruder (LANUV, Essen) for their support in selecting adequate industrial odor sources and carrying out some of the field measurements, and Dr. Armin Junker (Troisdorf) for his critical contributions in the planning phase of this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirsten Sucker
    • 1
  • Ralf Both
    • 2
  • Michael Bischoff
    • 3
  • Rainer Guski
    • 4
  • Gerhard Winneke
    • 5
  1. 1.iku GmbHDortmundGermany
  2. 2.North Rhine-Westphalia State Agency for NatureEnvironment and Consumer Protection (LANUV NRW)RecklinghausenGermany
  3. 3.deBAKOM GmbHOdenthalGermany
  4. 4.Fakultät für PsychologieRuhr-Universität BochumBochumGermany
  5. 5.Heinrich-Heine-University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

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