Performance in a complex task and breathing under odor exposure.Hum Factors. 2003 winter; 45(4):549-62.HF
We investigated the influences of odor exposure on performance and on breathing measures. The task was composed of tracking, short-term memory, and peripheral reaction parts. During rest or while performing the task, 12 participants were exposed to 4 different odors in 2 intensities. The higher intensity of the malodors induced a short-term decrement in mean inspiration flow (Vi/Ti) after stimulus onset and impaired performance in the short-term memory task, as compared with control trials; no effect was found for the positively judged odors. The study suggests that a distractor as simple as a bad smell may pull a person off task, however briefly, and may result in a detriment to performance. Actual or potential applications of this research involve designing or securing tasks in such a way that a brief withdrawal of attention does not have fatal consequences.