Grammatical gender affects odor cognition


Language interacts with olfaction in exceptional ways. Olfaction is believed to be weakly linked with language, as demonstrated by our poor odor naming ability, yet olfaction seems to be particularly susceptible to linguistic descriptions. We tested the boundaries of the influence of language on olfaction by focusing on a non-lexical aspect of language (grammatical gender). We manipulated the grammatical gender of fragrance descriptions to test whether the congruence with fragrance gender would affect the way fragrances were perceived and remembered. Native French and German speakers read descriptions of fragrances containing ingredients with feminine or masculine grammatical gender, and then smelled masculine or feminine fragrances and rated them on a number of dimensions (e.g., pleasantness). Participants then completed an odor recognition test. Fragrances were remembered better when presented with descriptions whose grammatical gender matched the gender of the fragrance. Overall, results suggest grammatical manipulations of odor descriptions can affect odor cognition.

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