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2020.08.25

An evolutionarily threat-relevant odor strengthens human fear memory

Summary

Jessica Taylor along with her colleagues from ATR, Professor Hakwan Lau from UCLA, USA, and Professor Ben Seymour from Cambridge University, UK, have been working on a project to investigate the influence of predator odors on human cognition. The results of their experimentation showed that the formation of human fear memories was enhanced in presence of a background predator odor.
It is widely known that olfaction and memory are closely related, for example, many people have the experience of a certain smell triggering strong recall of a specific memory. However, the influence of odors that are simply present in the background while people form memories has been little considered before now. These results therefore indicate that future researchers should consider more the unconscious effects of background odors on human memory formation and on cognition, in general.
In this study, the human participants had never previously encountered the predator odor directly and they rated it similarly to other common everyday odors. The effect of this odor on human fear learning might therefore have come about because it was associated with threat in human’s evolutionary past. Such evolutionarily old, odor-guided fear memory mechanisms may contribute to the development of disorders such as PTSD.

Article

<Title>

An Evolutionarily Threat-Relevant Odor Strengthens Human Fear Memory
DOI : 10.3389/fnins.2020.00255

<Authors>

Jessica E. Taylor, Hakwan Lau, Ben Seymour, Aya Nakae, Hidenobu Sumioka, Mitsuo Kawato, Ai Koizumi

<Journal>

Frontiers in Neuroscience