Olfaction spontaneously highlights visual saliency map

Kepu Chen, Bin Zhou, Shan Chen, Sheng He, Wen Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Attention is intrinsic to our perceptual representations of sensory inputs. Best characterized in the visual domain, it is typically depicted as a spotlight moving over a saliency map that topographically encodes strengths of visual features and feedback modulations over the visual scene. By introducing smells to two well-established attentional paradigms, the dot-probe and the visual-search paradigms, we find that a smell reflexively directs attention to the congruent visual image and facilitates visual search of that image without the mediation of visual imagery. Furthermore, such effect is independent of, and can override, top-down bias. We thus propose that smell quality acts as an object feature whose presence enhances the perceptual saliency of that object, thereby guiding the spotlight of visual attention. Our discoveries provide robust empirical evidence for a multimodal saliency map that weighs not only visual but also olfactory inputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20131729
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1768
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Attention
  • Multi-sensory integration
  • Olfaction
  • Saliency map


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