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Full Access On the colours of odours: Are the French really so different from the British?

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On the colours of odours: Are the French really so different from the British?

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It has been argued that culture-specific experiences exert a profound influence on various basic aspects of odour perception. Differences in terms of odour-colour associations might therefore be expected as a function of the culture in which people live, especially when the functions of odours and the symbolism of colours differ between countries (Maric and Jacquot, 2012). In the present study, we investigated the influence of experience on odour-colour correspondences at a European level. In Experiment 1, the responses of 59 British and 60 French participants to the same set of 16 odorants were compared. In each country, untrained participants were first presented with odorants and asked to select among 24 colours the one that best matched each given olfactory stimulus. Next, they rated each odour according to 4 descriptors: intensity, familiarity, pleasantness and edibility. Significant colour characterizations were observed for all the tested odours in both populations. No differences were reported between French and British groups in terms of the odour-colour associations that they exhibited. In Experiment 2, ‘chromatic cards’, generated for each odorant on the basis of the colours associated by the French participants were generated. 60 British participants were presented with 3 chromatic cards and asked, first, to name the odour which each card evocated, and second, to select from amongst 3 different olfactory stimuli the one that best matched each card. The results revealed that French chromatic cards were significantly associated to their related odours by the British participants. These results highlight the existence of robust crossmodal odour-colour correspondences among Northern Europeans. Our results raise some important questions concerning the representation of odours in different cultures. The practical applications of our findings will also be discussed.

Affiliations: 1: 1LIBio, Université de Lorraine, France; 2: 2Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK

It has been argued that culture-specific experiences exert a profound influence on various basic aspects of odour perception. Differences in terms of odour-colour associations might therefore be expected as a function of the culture in which people live, especially when the functions of odours and the symbolism of colours differ between countries (Maric and Jacquot, 2012). In the present study, we investigated the influence of experience on odour-colour correspondences at a European level. In Experiment 1, the responses of 59 British and 60 French participants to the same set of 16 odorants were compared. In each country, untrained participants were first presented with odorants and asked to select among 24 colours the one that best matched each given olfactory stimulus. Next, they rated each odour according to 4 descriptors: intensity, familiarity, pleasantness and edibility. Significant colour characterizations were observed for all the tested odours in both populations. No differences were reported between French and British groups in terms of the odour-colour associations that they exhibited. In Experiment 2, ‘chromatic cards’, generated for each odorant on the basis of the colours associated by the French participants were generated. 60 British participants were presented with 3 chromatic cards and asked, first, to name the odour which each card evocated, and second, to select from amongst 3 different olfactory stimuli the one that best matched each card. The results revealed that French chromatic cards were significantly associated to their related odours by the British participants. These results highlight the existence of robust crossmodal odour-colour correspondences among Northern Europeans. Our results raise some important questions concerning the representation of odours in different cultures. The practical applications of our findings will also be discussed.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22134808-000s0130
2013-05-16
2016-12-05

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