Effects of familiarization on odor hedonic responses and food choices in children with autism spectrum disorders

Abstract: This study assessed whether olfactory familiarization can render food odors more pleasant, and consequently food more attractive, to children with autism spectrum disorder. Participants were first presented with a series of food odors (session 1). Then, they were familiarized on four occasions (time window: 5 weeks) with one of the two most neutral odors (the other neutral odor was used as control) (session 2). In session 3, participants smelled the entire series of odors again. Both verbal and facial responses were compared from session 1 to session 3. After session 3, the children were presented with two identical foods (one containing the familiarized odor and one the control odor) and were asked to choose between these foods. Results revealed (1) a specific increase in positive emotions for the familiarized odor and (2) that 68% of the children chose the food associated with the “familiarized odor” (children who chose the “familiarized odor” food exhibited significantly more sensory particularities). These findings suggest that it is possible to modulate olfactory emotions and expand the dietary repertoire of children with autism spectrum disorder. Application of this paradigm may enable innovative prospects for food education in autism.

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