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12-06-2018 | Review | Uitgave 8/2019 Open Access

Psychological Research 8/2019

Olfactory perception and blindness: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Psychological Research > Uitgave 8/2019
Agnieszka Sorokowska, Piotr Sorokowski, Maciej Karwowski, Maria Larsson, Thomas Hummel
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-018-1035-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Anecdotal reports suggest that blind people might develop supra-normal olfactory abilities. However, scientific evidence shows a mixed pattern of findings. Inconsistent observations are reported for both sensory-driven olfactory tasks (e.g., odor threshold) and higher-order olfactory functions (e.g., odor identification). To quantify the evidence systematically, we conducted a review and meta-analysis. Studies were included if they examined olfactory function (i.e., odor threshold, odor discrimination, free odor identification, or cued odor identification) in blind compared with a sighted control group. Articles were identified through computerized literature search. A total of 18 studies focused on olfactory threshold (n = 1227: 590 blind and 637 sighted individuals), 14 studies targeted discrimination (n = 940: 455 blind and 485 sighted), 14 studies measured cued identification (n = 968: 468 blind and 500 sighted), and 7 studies (n = 443: 224 blind and 219 sighted individuals) assessed free identification. Overall, there were no differences in effect sizes between the blind and sighted individuals after correcting the results for publication bias. We additionally conducted an exploratory analysis targeting the role played by three moderators of interests: participants’ age, the proportion of women versus men in each of the studies included into meta-analysis and onset of blindness (early blind vs. late-blind). However, none of the moderators affected the observed results. To conclude, blindness seems not to affect cued/free odor identification, odor discrimination or odor thresholds.

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