Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification

Abstract

Olfactory processing is known to involve the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The OFC is also believed to function less effectively in individuals scoring higher in psychopathic personality traits. In this study, we examined whether poorer olfactory discrimination and identification—taken as an indicator of OFC integrity—was associated with the degree of presence of psychopathic traits in a community sample. Seventy-nine non-criminal participants completed the Self-Report Psychopathy scale and a standardized measure of olfactory ability, the Sniffin’ Sticks, measuring odor threshold, identification, and discrimination. Consistent with predictions, we found a relationship between psychopathy and olfactory discrimination and identification but not odor threshold, even after controlling for gender, age, empathy, smoking status, and craniofacial surgery/injury. These findings suggest that brain areas subserving higher olfactory processes—identification and discrimination—are somehow less efficient in individuals who score higher on psychopathic traits. In particular, we suggest that this relates to processing within the orbitofrontal cortex.

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Correspondence to Mehmet K. Mahmut.

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Mahmut, M.K., Stevenson, R.J. Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification. Chem. Percept. 5, 300–307 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12078-012-9135-7

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Keywords

  • Psychopathy
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Olfaction
  • Non-criminal
  • Sniffin’ Sticks