Open Access Research article

Effects of aversive odour presentation on inhibitory control in the Stroop colour-word interference task

Andreas Finkelmeyer12*, Thilo Kellermann12, Daniela Bude12, Thomas Nießen12, Michael Schwenzer12, Klaus Mathiak12 and Martina Reske13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr. 30, Aachen, Germany

2 JARA Translational Brain Medicine, Germany

3 Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine 4, Jülich Forschungszentrum GmbH, Jülich, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:131  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-131

Published: 18 October 2010



Due to the unique neural projections of the olfactory system, odours have the ability to directly influence affective processes. Furthermore, it has been shown that emotional states can influence various non-emotional cognitive tasks, such as memory and planning. However, the link between emotional and cognitive processes is still not fully understood. The present study used the olfactory pathway to induce a negative emotional state in humans to investigate its effect on inhibitory control performance in a standard, single-trial manual Stroop colour-word interference task. An unpleasant (H2S) and an emotionally neutral (Eugenol) odorant were presented in two separate experimental runs, both in blocks alternating with ambient air, to 25 healthy volunteers, while they performed the cognitive task.


Presentation of the unpleasant odorant reduced Stroop interference by reducing the reaction times for incongruent stimuli, while the presentation of the neutral odorant had no effect on task performance.


The odour-induced negative emotional state appears to facilitate cognitive processing in the task used in the present study, possibly by increasing the amount of cognitive control that is being exerted. This stands in contrast to other findings that showed impaired cognitive performance under odour-induced negative emotional states, but is consistent with models of mood-congruent processing.