The impact of expertise in olfaction
Front. Cogn. Sci.
in Press
Royet JP
Plailly J
Saive AL
Veyrac A
Delon-Martin C

Olfactory expertise remains poorly understood, most likely because experts in odor, such as perfumers, sommeliers and oenologists, are much rarer than experts in other modalities, such as musicians or sportsmen. In this review, we address the specificities of odor expertise in both odor experts and in a priori untrained individuals who have undergone specific olfactory training in the frame of an experiment, such as repeated exposure to odors or associative learning. Until the 21st century, only the behavioral effects of olfactory training of untrained control individuals had been reported, revealing an improvement of olfactory performance in terms of sensitivity, discrimination, memory, and identification. Behavioral studies of odor experts have been scarce, with inconsistent or inconclusive results. Recently, the development of cerebral imaging techniques has enabled the identification of brain areas and neural networks involved in odor processing, revealing functional and structural modifications as a function of experience. The behavioral approach to odor expertise has also evolved. Researchers have particularly focused on odor mental imagery, which is characteristic of odor experts, because this ability is absent in the average person but is part of a perfumer’s professional practice. This review summarizes behavioral, functional, and structural findings on odor expertise. These data are compared with those obtained using animals subjected to prolonged olfactory exposure or to olfactory-enriched environments and are discussed in the context of functional and structural plasticity.