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Although taste and smell seem hard to imagine, some people nevertheless report vivid imagery in these sensory modalities. We investigate whether experts are better able to imagine smells and tastes because they have learned the ability, or whether they are better imaginers in the first place, and so become experts. To test this, we first compared a group of wine experts to yoked novices using a battery of questionnaires. We show for the first time that experts report greater vividness of wine imagery, with no difference in vividness across sensory modalities. In contrast, novices had more vivid color imagery than taste or odor imagery for wines. Experts and novices did not differ on other vividness of imagery measures, suggesting a domain-specific effect of expertise. Critically, in a second study, we followed a group of students commencing a wine course and a group of matched control participants. Students and controls did not differ before the course, but after the wine course students reported more vivid wine imagery. We provide evidence that expertise improves imagery, exemplifying the extent of plasticity of cognition underlying the chemical senses.

Original publication




Journal article


Cogn Sci

Publication Date





Imagery, Olfaction, Taste, Training, Vision, Wine expertise, Adult, Aged, Female, Humans, Imagination, Male, Middle Aged, Odorants, Smell, Taste, Wine, Young Adult