Retronasal Habituation: Characterization and Impact on Flavor Perception Using Time-Intensity

  • Robert Pellegrino
  • Addison Atchley
  • Simrah Ali
  • Joel Shingleton
  • Curtis R. LuckettEmail author



Olfactory habituation results from prolonged exposure to an odor, leading to perceptual changes defined by several characteristics. To date, human habituation research has focused on orthonasal olfaction which is perceived externally while ignoring internal routes of odor perception related to flavor. In our study, we conducted two experiments to characterize retronasal olfactory habituation and measured its impact on flavor perception.


In Experiment 1, participants were presented a food odor and non-food odor retronasally, using an orally adhered strip. Each participant rated the odor intensity using a time-intensity procedure. After exposure, the participants ate a lime-flavored gummy and rated the lime flavor. In experiment 2, the same procedure was performed for a low-level lime odor, a simple (lime oil) and complex (lime oil + sucrose + citric acid) beverage as the flavor stimuli.


Our results demonstrated two known principles of habituation for retronasally presented odors: (1) prolonged exposure leads to decreased perception and (2) weaker stimuli lead to more rapid habituation. Additionally, we found that the non-food odor habituated slower than the food odor; however, the participants seemed to recover simultaneously upon food and beverage consumption leading to no change in flavor perception.


The findings of this study give evidence that we habituate to different odors at different rates; more specifically, we provide evidence that differentiates between odor origin and concentration.


This is the first time-intensity characterization of retronasal odor habituation. Additionally, a novel method of administering retronasal odors is presented.


Habituation Retronasal Odor Flavor Time-Intensity Desensitization 



The authors would like to thank Sara Burns for her work organizing the logistics of the studies.

Author Contributions

C.R.L. and R.P designed the studies, constructed the manuscript and performed the data analysis. J.S., A.A., and S.A. constructed and administered the stimuli and contributed to the manuscript preparation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study had no direct funding sources.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study was conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki for studies on human subjects. The protocol used in this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN).

Informed Consent

Before publication, the experimental procedure was explained to all participants and a written informed consent was obtained from each.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Food Science, Institute of AgricultureUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.Smell & Taste Clinic, Department of OtorhinolaryngologyTU DresdenDresdenGermany

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