Pleasant and unpleasant odour-face combinations influence face and odour perception: An event-related potential study
We studied the time course of the cerebral integration of olfaction in the visual processing of emotional faces during an orthogonal task asking for detection of red-colored faces among expressive faces. Happy, angry, disgust, fearful, sad, and neutral faces were displayed in pleasant, aversive or no odor control olfactory contexts while EEG was recorded to extract event-related potentials (ERPs). Results indicated that the expressive faces modulated the cerebral responses at occipito-parietal, central and central-parietal electrodes from around 100 ms and until 480 ms after face onset. The response was divided in different successive stages corresponding to different ERP components (P100, N170, P200 and N250 (EPN), and LPP). The olfactory contexts influenced the ERPs in response to facial expressions in two phases. First, regardless of their emotional content, the response to faces was enhanced by both odors compared with no odor approximately 160 ms after face-onset at several central, centro-parietal and left lateral electrodes. The topography of this effect clearly depended on the valence of odors. Then, a second phase occurred, but only in the aversive olfactory context, which modulated differentially the P200 at occipital sites (starting approximately 200 ms post-stimulus) by amplifying the differential response to expressions, especially between emotional neutrality and both happiness and disgust. Overall, the present study suggests that the olfactory context first elicits an undifferentiated effect around 160 ms after face onset, followed by a specific modulation at 200 ms induced by the aversive odor on neutral and affectively congruent/incongruent expressions.