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Temporal integration of pungency

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Four experiments explored possible temporal summation in olfaction and the common chemical sense. In one experiment, participants judged the perceived magnitude of various concentrations and durations (1.25 - 3.75 s) of the pungent odorant ammonia and the nonpungent odorant isoamyl butyrate. The perceived magnitude of ammonia increased during an inhalation whereas the magnitude of isoamyl butyrate did not. Time-intensity trading relations for ammonia indicated nearly perfect temporal summation. In another experiment, modulation of the concentration of ammonia during an inhalation led to assessments of perceived magnitude that confirmed the high degree of temporal summation seen in the first experiment. That is, approximately equal time-integrated mass of inhaled ammonia led to approximately equal perceived intensity. A third experiment indicated that temporal summation for ammonia arose from its pungency rather than from its odor, a fourth that trigeminally-mediated reflex apnea in response to ammonia also exhibits temporal summation. The degree of temporal summation measured with the reflex came very close to that assessed psychophysically. When stimulated with ammonia, the common chemical sense behaves more like a total mass detector than a concentration detector. The investigation raises the possibility that the short-term sensory reaction to most pungent stimuli may follow this simple rule.

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