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    Previous studies have reported enhanced vigilance for threat-related information in response to acute stress. While it is known that acute stress modulates sensory systems in humans, its impact on olfaction and the olfactory detection of potential threats is less clear. Two psychophysical experiments examined, if acute stress lowers the detection threshold for foul-smelling 2-mercaptoethanol. Participants in Experiment 1 (N = 30) and Experiment 2 (N = 32) were randomly allocated to a control group or a stress group. Participants in the stress group underwent a purely psychosocial stressor (public mental arithmetic) in Experiment 1 and a stressor that combined a physically demanding task with social-evaluative threat in Experiment 2 (socially evaluated cold-pressor test). In both experiments, olfactory detection thresholds were repeatedly assessed by means of dynamic dilution olfactometry. Each threshold measurement consisted of three trials conducted using an ascending method of limits. Participants in the stress groups showed the expected changes in heart rate, salivary cortisol, and mood measures in response to stress. About 20 min after the stressor, participants in the stress groups could detect 2-mercaptoethanol at a lower concentration than participants in the corresponding control groups. Our results show that acute stress lowers the detection threshold for a malodor.


    Marlene Pacharra, Michael Schäper, Stefan Kleinbeck, Meinolf Blaszkewicz, Oliver T Wolf, Christoph van Thriel. Stress lowers the detection threshold for foul-smelling 2-mercaptoethanol. Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands). 2016;19(1):18-27

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    PMID: 26553419

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