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 who, in this process, experience complex emotions including joy and love that make the life worth living. How do we derive representations of the world from sensory input? What gives rise to human emotions?
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, where the role of chemosensory communication is less understood but perfumes are commonly used, the olfactory pathways greatly overlap with the limbic system (emotional brain), making our responses to olfactory stimuli naturally emotional.
In the realm of scents, I am working on:
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 interesting issues.