The ability of human subjects to distinguish between aliphatic C6 alcohols differing in presence, position, or configuration (i.e., cis-trans geometry) of a double bond was tested. In a forced-choice triangular test procedure, 20 subjects were repeatedly presented with all 21 binary combinations of the seven stimuli and asked to identify the bottle containing the odd stimulus. I found (a) that as a group, the subjects performed significantly above chance level in all tasks but two and thus were clearly able to discriminate between most of the odor pairs presented; (b) marked interindividual differences in discrimination performance, ranging from subjects who were able to significantly distinguish between all 21 odor pairs to subjects who failed to do so with 10 of the tasks; (c) that odor pairs involving two hexenols were significantly more difficult to discriminate than odor pairs that involved hexanol and one of the hexenols; (d) that odor pairs involving hexenols sharing the same geometry but differing in the position of the double bond by only one carbon atom were significantly more difficult to distinguish than odor pairs that involved hexenols differing by two carbon atoms; (e) that odor pairs involving 4-hexenols were significantly easier to discriminate than 3-hexenols, which, in turn, were significantly easier to distinguish than 2-hexenols; and (f) that odor pairs involving two cis-hexenols were significantly more difficult to discriminate than odor pairs that involved two trans-hexenols. These findings demonstrate that the presence as well as the position and configuration of a double bond affected discriminability in a systematic manner and suggest that these molecular structural features may be important determinants of the interaction between stimulus molecule and olfactory receptor and thus may affect odor quality of aliphatic alcohols.
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