Is perceptual learning generalisable in the chemical senses? A longitudinal pilot study based on a naturalistic blind wine tasting training scenario

Abstract

Introduction

A growing body of research has demonstrated differences in perceptual, conceptual, and language abilities between wine experts and novices. However, it is unclear to what extent these differences are innate or acquired through training. The present study assessed the olfactory and gustatory performance of a group of university blind wine tasters before and after training. Previous research has shown that this training regimen significantly improves blind tasting accuracy, but it remains unknown whether perceptual learning from blind tasting training is generalisable to standard tests of olfactory/gustatory ability.

Methods

Two testing sessions were carried out for the training group (N = 14) as well as for a control group (N = 12) before and after a 5-week training period. In each session, participants underwent olfactory threshold, discrimination, and identification assessments as well as a gustatory sensitivity test.

Results

Olfactory discrimination significantly improved in the training group over the 5-week period, and the training group outperformed controls in olfactory identification in both sessions.

Conclusions

Based on our limited set of data, wine training seems to have improved olfactory discrimination, even though the method of training did not involve odorants used in the discrimination test itself.

Implications

These results reveal that even wine training over a short period seems to make concrete changes to olfactory performance, supporting the idea that generalised perceptual learning can take place for odour discrimination.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank members of the Oxford University Blind Tasting Society for their support and participation in the research.

Funding

This work has been supported by an AUFF starting grant from Aarhus University received by the first author. The last author was partly funded by Arla and Central Region Denmark.

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Correspondence to Qian Janice Wang.

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Wang, Q.J., Fernandes, H.M. & Fjaeldstad, A.W. Is perceptual learning generalisable in the chemical senses? A longitudinal pilot study based on a naturalistic blind wine tasting training scenario. Chem. Percept. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12078-020-09284-x

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Keywords

  • Perceptual learning
  • Wine expertise
  • Training
  • Olfactory performance
  • Gustatory sensitivity