Habituation and adaptation to odors in humans

R. Pellegrino, C. Sinding, R.A. de Wijk, T. Hummel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Habituation, or decreased behavioral response, to odors is created by repeated exposure and several detailed characteristics, whereas adaptation relates to the neural processes that constitute this decrease in a behavioral response. As with all senses, the olfactory system continually encounters an enormous variety of odorants which is why mechanisms must exist to segment them and respond to changes. Although most olfactory habitation studies have focused on animal models, this non-systematic review provides an overview of olfactory habituation and adaptation in humans, and techniques that have been used to measure them. Thus far, psychophysics in combination with modern techniques of neural measurement indicate that habituation to odors, or decrease of intensity, is relatively fast with adaptation occurring more quickly at higher cerebral processes than peripheral adaptation. Similarly, it has been demonstrated that many of the characteristics of habitation apply to human olfaction; yet, evidence for some characteristics such as potentiation of habituation or habituation of dishabituation need more support. Additionally, standard experimental designs should be used to minimize variance across studies, and more research is needed to define peripheral-cerebral feedback loops involved in decreased responsiveness to environmental stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-19
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Adaptation
  • Desensitization
  • Human
  • Neuroscience
  • Olfaction
  • Smell


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