This experiment is part of the Mental Health Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Odorants and presence in warfighters: Do the scents of war matter?

Raised of $5,030 Goal
Ended on 2/09/17
Campaign Ended
  • $254
  • 6%
  • Finished
    on 2/09/17

About This Project

Exposure therapy (EXP) is an intervention based upon behavioral extinction. Many technologies have been used to augment EXP by presenting multi-sensory cues (e.g., sights, sounds) to increase patients’ sense of presence. Exploratory research has only broadly examined the effect of odorants on the patient’s sense of presence (feeling "really there") during EXP. In this study, the effect of smell and memory will be assessed via physiological and self-report measures.

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What is the context of this research?

Exposure therapy is a first-line intervention for combat-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The goal of exposure therapy is to extinguish behaviors that are, or have become, maladaptive by exposing the patient to the anxiety or fear-producing stimulus (or a facsimile of that stimulus) without exposing the patient to actual danger. VR systems are increasingly being utilized to this end. However, the specific effect of odorants (smells) has been largely neglected.

Presence refers to how much a person feels "really there" within VR. If odorants influence how present or immersed an individual feels while engaged in a virtual environment, it is possible that augmenting VR exposure may improve or accelerate clinical improvement in individuals suffering from PTSD.

What is the significance of this project?

Understanding the relationship between memory, presence, and olfaction may result in improved intervention planning and treatment outcome. If memory influences presence, special attention may be required to ensure the deployment of VR congruent with patient memories. Similarly, if odorants enhance the sense of presence in veterans and service members in an environment during simulated exposure tasks, it seems logical that exposure therapy may be more effective when olfactory cues are added.

What are the goals of the project?

The first goal will be equip our lab with the needed equipment to drive this study. This includes the virtual reality equipment and physiological recording devices. Once we complete setup, we will begin recruiting.

We conducted a power analysis to determine our required sample size for this study. We require 78 subjects across all four conditions for a 80% chance of detecting differences between groups. Our groups consist of military service members, veterans, and nonmilitary controls, who will be located from the local community. We hope to have recruitment completed by June, 2017.

Once subject recruitment and data collection are complete, we will analyse our data set. Utilizing appropriate statistical models, we will examine differences between groups.


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Ensuring our participants are physically capable of detecting scents is of utmost importance. The Smell Identification Test allows us to detect olfactory dysfunction which would undermine our ability to detect differences.

The odorants are dispersed by a Scent Palette, a USB Driven dispersion device controlled from with VR interface. Our odorants are ceramic pellets that have been impregnated with synthetic chemical compounds similar to those experienced in combat zones.

We feel it is important to compensate participants for their time and cooperation, given the number of physiological measurements we will acquire during the experiment. For their time, we would like to compensate each participant a $15 gift card.

While computers are standard laboratory equipment, those utilized in rendering virtual environments require additional GPUs not found in traditional desktop computers.

Endorsed by

I have been working closely with Benson on this project. It is an extension of his previous work, "Olfactory stimuli increase presence in virtual environments" that was published earlier this year, (PLoS ONE 11(6): e0157568) Benson is well trained in this methodology and I believe the results of this study could have an impact on the treatment of PTSD.

Meet the Team

Benson G. Munyan
Benson G. Munyan
Doctoral Candidate

Benson G. Munyan

I am currently a Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology. My research interests revolve around veterans and PTSD. Prior to pursuing my doctorate, I served in the United States Army, with tours of duty spanning Iraq, Kuwait, and the Horn of Africa. In my spare time, I enjoys music, computer games, and spearfishing.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Our odorants are ceramic pellets impregnated with chemical compounds that resemble odors commonly encountered in combat zones.

Project Backers

  • 2Backers
  • 6%Funded
  • $254Total Donations
  • $127.00Average Donation
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