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Impact of olfactory sensory stimuli on affective processing networks in the brain

   Institute of Psychology, Health & Society

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  Dr Nick Fallon, Dr Carl Roberts, Dr T Giesbrecht  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Olfactory stimuli - odours - impact on human affective (emotional) processing, e.g., evaluation of a ‘happy’ scene can be enhanced by the presence of a pleasant fragrance. Methods to investigate affective processing in humans utilise emotion recognition or affective judgement tasks which involve observation and rating of emotions in visual scenes or facial expressions. This leads to mirroring of affective responses in the viewer (empathy) which has also been shown to be enhanced by presence of fragrance (Prehn-Kristensen et al., 2014). Importantly, these processes may have implications for personal mood or wellbeing. However, the brain mechanisms underpinning olfactory-affective interactions are not yet understood.

A recent meta-analysis from our team (Fallon et al., 2020a) revealed that empathic processing activates brain regions that are also associated with olfaction, specifically insula and anterior cingulate cortices. Working with our industrial partner, Unilever, we also demonstrated that electrophysiological activity generated in cingulate cortices is modulated by the relationship between olfactory-visual stimuli (Fallon et al., 2020b).  

Therefore, our evidence suggests that olfactory processing interacts with known affective processing networks in the brain, particularly in integrative cortical structures. However, more research is needed to investigate and confirm this, and to consider how potential benefits to individual mood or wellbeing.


This project aims to characterise the interaction of neural responses during olfactory-visual processing for affective judgements using neuroimaging methods. The successful candidate will work with a diverse supervision team located in the Department of Psychology at the University of Liverpool and also benefit from supervision and placements with the industry partner (Unilever Research and Development, Port Sunlight, UK).

We will work to elucidate brain structures and networks involved in the conjunction of olfactory and affective processing using electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The student will develop a pipeline to quantify brain activity for processing emotional responses in the presence of odour stimuli using event-related potential analysis of EEG data, and brain network connectivity using fMRI (or similar). We will investigate participant mood and wellbeing to gain insight into potential benefits of interactions between olfactory and affective processing.   

Attributes of suitable applicants:

Essential: Good (First/Upper Second Class) degree in any relevant subject area (e.g. psychology, neuroscience, computer science, biomedical sciences etc.)

Desirable: Experience of neuroimaging data collection and/or analysis using EEG or fMRI. Experience of programming in R statistics, Matlab, Python or similar. 

Interested candidates can apply by sending a covering letter outlining relevant experience and interest in the position, along with a copy of their CV containing information for 2 referees, to the supervisor (Dr Nick Fallon, [Email Address Removed]) or via the ‘email institution’ link.  

Funding Notes

This project is funded for four years by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
UKRI-BBSRC and our industry partner Unilever Ltd. UKRI-BBSRC eligibility criteria apply ( Successful students will receive a stipend of no less than the standard UKRI stipend rate, currently set at £15,609 per year, which will be supplemented by the industrial partner with additional £4,000 per year.
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