Humans are, in a sense, sets of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Just as a Gestalt psychologist would argue, it is the peculiar way these elements are assembled together that makes us humans, capable of exploring the world, both outward and inward (“we might progress ever closer toward the laws that govern our universe”–Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time), and, in this process, experiencing complex emotions including joy and love that make the life worth living. How do we derive representations of the world from sensory inputs? What gives rise to human emotions?
The olfactory system provides a unique channel to the answers of these fundamental questions. Olfaction is phylogenetically one of the oldest senses, and is highly conserved in evolution (bacteria-insects-mammals). It is intrinsically emotional. Olfactory communication of emotions is ubiquitous across the animal kingdom; more interactions are mediated by chemosignals than by any other kind of signal. In humans, the olfactory pathways greatly overlap with the limbic system (emotional brain), and perfumes have obsessed every culture and religion.
In the realm of scents, I am interested in:
1) The properties of human olfactory perception.
2) The extent to which human chemosignals are processed and recognized; their influence on human behavior.
3) The interplays between olfaction and other sensory (e.g. vision) and emotional systems.
We employ a combination of psychophysical testing, physiological recording and brain imaging techniques to study these questions.