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Discrimination between heavy water and deionized water using gustation vs. olfaction in humans


This research was conducted to determine whether human subjects could discriminate between D2O and deionized water through tasting the stimuli and in addition to determine whether they could do so through using smell alone. In the first study, the subjects were given 20 trials, 10 trials during which the substances were tasted and an additional 10 trials during which they were smelled. On each trial, the subject was presented with three test tubes, two containing the same substance and one containing the other substance, and the subject’s task was to identify the test tube with the different substance. The results showed that the subjects could discriminate between D2O and deionized water when they tasted the substances, but when they used smell, they performed more poorly than was expected by chance. Replication of the results with the smell condition was attempted, and the subjects did not discriminate differently from that expected by chance. The results of the two studies were interpreted as showing that humans can discriminate between D2O and deionized water and that the receptor used for the discrimination was gustatory rather than olfactory.


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This research was supported in part by a grant from the Old Dominion University Research Foundation. The authors are indebted to Dr. Peter J. Mikulka for his assistance.

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Kirby, R.H., Pick, D.F. & Riddick, M.S. Discrimination between heavy water and deionized water using gustation vs. olfaction in humans. Psychobiology 4, 102–104 (1976).

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  • Test Tube
  • Correct Response
  • Physiological Psychology
  • Olfactory Receptor
  • National Academy ofScience