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Odor and color are strongly associated. Numerous studies demonstrate consistent odor-color associations, as well as effects of color on odor perception and language. Yet, we know little about how these associations arise. Here, we test whether language is a possible mediator of odor-color associations, specifically whether odor-color associations are mediated by implicit odor naming. In two experiments, we used an interference paradigm to prevent the verbalization of odors during an odor-color matching task. If participants generate color associations subsequent to labeling an odor, interfering with verbalization during the task should affect the ability to make color associations. In Experiment 1, contrary to our hypothesis, verbal interference did not affect odor-color matches. However, since performance accuracy on the verbal interference task was high, it is possible our task did not sufficiently disrupt verbal processing. In Experiment 2, we, therefore, used an active verbal interference task, and still found no difference across interference conditions. Odor naming accuracy, odor familiarity, and odor pleasantness, however, did predict odor-color matches. This suggests that although color associations are related to semantic factors, they are not generated by recruiting odor labels in the moment. Overall, our results do not provide evidence that language plays an online role in odor-color associations, instead, they are consistent with the claim that language may have shaped associations during development.

Original publication




Journal article


Cogn Sci

Publication Date





Color, Cross-modal associations, Language and Thought, Odor-color, Olfaction, Humans, Odorants, Recognition, Psychology, Language, Semantics, Color, Smell