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Many affective stimuli are hedonically complex mixtures containing both pleasant and unpleasant components. To investigate whether the brain represents the overall affective value of such complex stimuli, or the affective value of the different components simultaneously, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activations to a pleasant odor (jasmine), an unpleasant odor (indole), and a mixture of the two that was pleasant. In brain regions that represented the pleasantness of the odors such as the medial orbitofrontal cortex (as shown by activations that correlated with the pleasantness ratings), the mixture produced activations of similar magnitude to the pleasant jasmine, but very different from the unpleasant indole. These regions thus emphasize the pleasant aspects of the mixture. In contrast, in regions representing the unpleasantness of odors such as the dorsal anterior cingulate and midorbitofrontal cortex the mixture produced activations that were relatively further from the pleasant component jasmine and closer to the indole. These regions thus emphasize the unpleasant aspects of the mixture. Thus mixtures that are found pleasant can have components that are separately pleasant and unpleasant, and the brain can separately and simultaneously represent the positive and negative hedonic value of a complex affective stimulus that contains both pleasant and unpleasant olfactory components. This type of representation may be important for affective decision making in the brain in that separate representations of different affective components of the same sensory stimulus may provide the inputs for making a decision about whether to choose the stimulus or not.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





13532 - 13540


Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Emotions, Female, Humans, Indoles, Jasminum, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Odorants, Smell