Chemosensory Perception

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 95–111 | Cite as

Crossmodal Associations Between Olfaction and Vision: Color and Shape Visualizations of Odors

  • Kathrin Kaeppler



In the present study, we assessed crossmodal associations between odors and both color and shape, with particular interest in the principles beneath these mappings. We hypothesized that visual associations of odors would primarily reflect observable features of a smelling object and thus vary with different source assumptions of the very same smell.


We asked 30 participants to visualize their odor associations on a drawing tablet, freely deciding on color and shape. Additionally, subjects provided ratings on perceptual and shape-related dimensions as well as a verbal label for each sample.


With respect to color selection, the results confirmed a source-based mapping approach: odors rated as familiar were associated with very particular colors that typically resembled the appearance of their source. For less familiar odors, color selection was rather inconsistent but still then went along with assumed odor objects. Shape ratings changed with odor identifications as well, but considerably less than for color associations. Shape ratings and shape drawings produced very different results. While shape ratings were unlikely rooted in the mental imagery of a shape, drawings frequently displayed concrete objects that depended on odor label.


Results confirm the existence of stable odor–vision correspondences and suggest that language plays a major part in mediating these mappings. The frequently assumed hedonic foundation of crossmodal matchings could not be confirmed for this stimuli set.


Odor sensations may trigger odor naming spontaneously. Assumptions about an odor’s identity, as well as the multisensory knowledge we have acquired on it, affect the visual associations of an odor.


Crossmodal associations Crossmodal correspondences Odor Olfaction Color Shape 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The study was conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki—Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects and approved by the Ethics Committee of Leuphana University Lueneburg.

Informed Consent

Participants provided informed consent about being tested.

Supplementary material

12078_2018_9245_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (3.5 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 3.53 mb)
12078_2018_9245_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (99 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 99 kb)
12078_2018_9245_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (95 kb)
ESM 3 (PDF 95.2 kb)
12078_2018_9245_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (87 kb)
ESM 4 (PDF 88.6 kb)
12078_2018_9245_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (62 kb)
ESM 5 (PDF 62.1 kb)


  1. Blackwell L (1995) Visual cues and their effects on odour assessment. Nutr Food Sci 95:24–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cain WS (1979) To know with the nose: keys to odor identification. Science 203:467–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cain WS, Potts BC (1996) Switch and bait: probing the discriminative basis of odor identification via recognition memory. Chem Senses 21:35–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cain WS, de WR, Lulejian C, Schiet F, See L-C (1998) Odor identification: perceptual and semantic dimensions. Chem Senses 23:309–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charney, S., Levitan, C.A., Palmer, S.E., &Schloss, K.B. (2015). The smell of jazz: crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion. CogSciGoogle Scholar
  6. Chrea C, Valentin D, Sulmont-Rossé C, Ly Mai H, Hoang Nguyen D, Abdi H (2004) Culture and odor categorization: agreement between cultures depends upon the odors. Food Qual Prefer 15:669–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collier GL (1996) Affective synesthesia: extracting emotion space from simple perceptual stimuli. Motiv Emot 20:1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crisinel A-S, Jacquier C, Deroy O, Spence C (2013) Composing with cross-modal correspondences: music and odors in concert. Chem Percept. 6:45–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crisinel A-S, Jones S, Spence C (2012) ‘The sweet taste of maluma’: crossmodal associations between tastes and words. Chem Percept. 5:266–273Google Scholar
  10. Crisinel A-S, Spence C (2010) As bitter as a trombone: synesthetic correspondences in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes. Atten Percept Psychophys. 72:1994–2002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dematte ML, Sanabria D, Spence C (2006) Cross-modal associations between odors and colors. Chem Senses 31:531–538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Deroy O, Crisinel A-S, Spence C (2013) Crossmodal correspondences between odors and contingent features: odors, musical notes, and geometrical shapes. Psychon Bull Rev 20:878–896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Desor JA, Beauchamp GK (1974) The human capacity to transmit olfactory information. Percept Psychophys 16:551–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dubois D, Rouby C (2002) Names and categories for odors: the veridical label. In: Rouby C, Schaal B, Dubois D, Gervais R, Holley A (eds) Olfaction, taste, and cognition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (GB), pp 47–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Engen T (1972) The effect of expectation on judgments of odor. Acta Psychol 36:450–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ferdenzi C, Roberts SC, Schirmer A, Delplanque S, Cekic S, Porcherot C, Cayeux I, Sander D, Grandjean D (2013) Variability of affective responses to odors: culture, gender, and olfactory knowledge. Chem Senses 38:175–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fiore AM (1993) Multisensory integration of visual, tactile, and olfactory aesthetic cues of appearance. Cloth Textiles Res J 11:45–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gilbert AN, Martin R, Kemp SE (1996) Cross-modal correspondence between vision and olfaction: the color of smells. Am J Psychol 109:335–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hanson-Vaux G, Crisinel A-S, Spence C (2013) Smelling shapes: crossmodal correspondences between odors and shapes. Chem Senses 38:161–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jacquot M, Noel F, Velasco C, Spence C (2016) On the colours of odours. Chem Percept. 9:79–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaeppler K, Mueller F (2013) Odor classification: a review of factors influencing perception-based odor arrangements. Chem Senses 38:189–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kemp SE, Gilbert AN (1997) Odor intensity and color lightness are correlated sensory dimensions. Am J Psychol 110:35–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Knöferle K, Spence C (2012) Crossmodal correspondences between sounds and tastes. Psychon Bull Rev 19:992–1006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lavin JG, Lawless HT (1998) Effects of color and odor on judgments of sweetness among children and adults. Food Qual Prefer 9:283–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levitan CA, Ren J, Woods AT, Boesveldt S, Chan JS, McKenzie KJ, Dodson M, Levin JA, Leong CXR, van den Bosch JJF (2014) Cross-cultural color-odor associations. PLoS One 9:e101651CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Majid A (2015) Cultural factors shape olfactory language. Trends Cogn Sci 19:629–630CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Majid A, Burenhult N (2014) Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language. Cognition 130:266–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Maric Y, Jacquot M (2013) Contribution to understanding odour–colour associations. Food Qual Prefer 27:191–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Marks LE (1996) On perceptual metaphors. Metaphor Symb Act 11:39–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Marks LE (2004) Cross-modal interactions in speeded classification. In: Calvert GA, Spence C, Stein BE (eds) Handbook of multisensory processes. MIT Press, Cambridge (MA), pp 85–106Google Scholar
  31. Martino G, Marks LE (2000) Cross-modal interaction between vision and touch: the role of synesthetic correspondence. Perception 29:745–754CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martino G, Marks LE (2001) Synesthesia: strong and weak. Curr Direct Psychol Sci 10:61–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Morrot G, Brochet F, Dubourdieu D (2001) The color of odors. Brain Lang 79:309–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nehmé L, Barbar R, Maric Y, Jacquot M (2016) Influence of odor function and color symbolism in odor–color associations: a French–Lebanese–Taiwanese cross-cultural study. Food Qual Prefer 49:33–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Olofsson JK (2014) Time to smell: a cascade model of human olfactory perception based on response-time (RT) measurement. Front Psychol 5:33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Olofsson JK, Bowman NE, Gottfried JA (2013) High and low roads to odor valence? A choice response-time study. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 39:1205–1211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Olofsson JK, Gottfried JA (2015) The muted sense: neurocognitive limitations of olfactory language. Trends Cogn Sci 19:314–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Österbauer RA, Matthews PM, Jenkinson M, Beckmann CF, Hansen PC, Calvert GA (2005) Color of scents: chromatic stimuli modulate odor responses in the human brain. J Neurophysiol 93:3434–3441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pauli P, Bourne LE, Diekmann H, Birbaumer N (1999) Cross-modality priming between odors and odor-congruent words. Am J Psychol 112:175–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sakai N (2005) The effect of visual images on perception of odors. Chem Senses 30:i244–i245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schifferstein HNJ, Tanudjaja I (2004) Visualising fragrances through colours: the mediating role of emotions. Perception 33:1249–1266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Seo H-S, Arshamian A, Schemmer K, Scheer I, Sander T, Ritter G, Hummel T (2010) Cross-modal integration between odors and abstract symbols. Neurosci Lett 478:175–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Spector F, Maurer D (2012) Making sense of scents the colour and texture of odours. Seeing Perceiving 25:655–677CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Spence C (2011) Crossmodal correspondences: a tutorial review. Atten Percept Psychophys 73:971–995CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Spence C, Deroy O (2013) How automatic are crossmodal correspondences? Conscious Cogn 22:245–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Spence C, Wan X, Woods A, Velasco C, Deng J, Youssef J, Deroy O (2015) On tasty colours and colourful tastes? Assessing, explaining, and utilizing crossmodal correspondences between colours and basic tastes. Flavour 4:70Google Scholar
  47. Stevenson RJ, Rich A, Russell A (2012) The nature and origin of cross-modal associations to odours. Perception 41:606–619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Streeter NL, White TL (2011) Incongruent contextual information intrudes on short-term olfactory memory. Chem Percept 4:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. de Valk JM, Wnuk E, Huisman JLA, Majid A (2016) Odor-color associations differ with verbal descriptors for odors: a comparison of three linguistically diverse groups. Psychon Bull Rev:1–9Google Scholar
  50. de Wijk RA, Cain WS (1994) Odor quality: discrimination versus free and cued identification. Percept Psychophys 56:12–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Zellner DA (2013) Color–odor interactions areview and model. Chem Percept. 6:155–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zellner DA, Bartoli AM, Eckard R (1991) Influence of color on odor identification and liking ratings. Am J Psychol 104:547–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zellner DA, Kautz MA (1990) Color affects perceived odor intensity. J Exp Psychol Human Percept 16:391–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zellner DA, McGarry A, Mattern-McClory R, Abreu D (2008) Masculinity/femininity of fine fragrances affects color-odor correspondences: acase for cognitions influencing cross-modal correspondences. Chem Senses 33:211–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zellner DA, Whitten LA (1999) The effect of color intensity and appropriateness on color-induced odor enhancement. Am J Psychol 112:585–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Experimental Business PsychologyLeuphana University LueneburgLueneburgGermany

Personalised recommendations