Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

With Peppermints You're Not My Prince: Aroma Modulates Self-Other Integration

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

With Peppermints You're Not My Prince: Aroma Modulates Self-Other Integration

Article excerpt

Published online: 15 July 2015

© The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at

Abstract Recent studies showed that self-other integration, as indexed by the joint Simon effect (JSE), can be modulated by biasing participants towards particular (integrative vs. exclusive) cognitive-control states. Interestingly, there is evidence suggesting that such control states can be induced by particular odors: stimulating odors (e.g., peppermint aroma) seem to induce a more focused, exclusive state; relaxing odors (e.g., lavender aroma) are thought to induce a broader, more integrative state. In the present study, we tested the possible impact of peppermint and lavender aromas on self-other integration. Pairs of participants performed the joint Simon task in an either peppermint- or lavender-scented testing room. Results showed that both aromas modulated the size of the JSE, although they had a dissociable effect on reaction times (RTs) and percentage of errors (PEs). Whilst the JSE in RTs was found to be less pronounced in the peppermint group, compared to the lavender and no-aroma groups, the JSE in PEs was significantly more pronounced in the lavender group, compared to the peppermint and no-aroma group. These results are consistent with the emerging literature suggesting that the degree of self-other integration does not reflect a trait but a particular cognitive state, which can be biased towards excluding or integrating the other in one's self-representation.

Keywords Joint Simon effect . Self-other integration . Aromas . Cognitive state . Attention


Converging evidence suggests that the way people represent (construe) themselves is very flexible and context-sensitive, especially with regard to the degree they perceive themselves as being dependent on, or independent from, their social environment (for a review, see Cross, Hardin, & Gercek-Swing, 2011). For instance, the degree of inclusion of others into a person's self-concept does not only vary with psychological and cultural variables (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989), but also depends on situational and contextual factors, such as the degree to which a task draws attention to one's social relatedness (Kühnen & Oyserman, 2002). This seems to reflect a tendency to adapt one's own self-construal to the situation at hand, which again may explain why people experience a certain variation in their self-construal, in which the boundaries between oneself and others can change.

How can self-representations be so dynamic? According to Hommel, Colzato, and van den Wildenberg (2009; see also Dolk et al., 2013, 2014; cf. Hommel, Müsseler, Aschersleben & Prinz, 2001), our cognitive system represents individuals (i.e., social events) and objects (i.e., non-social events) in equivalent ways, namely, as an integrated network of codes (i.e., socalled event files) that store information about an event'sperceptual features and actions. This implies that there is no actual difference between representing oneself and representing another person, as well as between representing an individual and representing an object, as these representations rely on a common format. Accordingly, there would be no reason to assume that constructing and handling representations of oneself and of others is any different from constructing and handling representations of objects: if objects can be perceived as being more similar and related (e.g., forming a Gestalt or group) or more dissimilar and separate, depending on the context (Olson, 1970), the same should apply to people. Going a step further, this suggests that the process of integrating or discriminating between self and other can be controlled by the same mechanisms and according to the same principles that allow one to integrate or discriminate between two objects.

Empirical evidence in favor of this claim comes from recent studies showing that performance in the joint Simon task (Sebanz, Knoblich, & Prinz, 2003), which has been assumed to reflect the degree of self-other integration, is sensitive to manipulations that are likely to affect the exclusiveness versus integrativeness of cognitive control states. …

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