In order to explore how to better utilize simulated odors for live training, a study of 180 United States Military Academy at West Point cadets was undertaken to determine whether pre-exposure to a simulated malodor may result in an amelioration of performance issues, as well as improving performance of a complex task. Exposure to malodors has long been shown to increase stress and escape behavior, and reduce performance of complex tasks, in addition to degrading other human factor areas. However, desensitization to a particular odor through a process known as olfactory adaptation, could ameliorate these performance issues. In this study, cadets were assigned to one of three conditions: Adaptation (odor/odor, to denote presence or absence of the simulated malodor in each of two phases), No Adaptation (no odor/odor), or Control (no odor/no odor). Participants wore a device to track electrodermal activity, a predictor of stress. Participants spent 12 minutes in a tent taking a quiz involving a common military task. After two minutes, a scent delivery system was turned on, delivering either the simulated malodor (burnt human flesh) or no odor. Participants exited the tent after the full 12 minutes and rated the air quality of the tent. They repeated the exercise in a second tent, with a similar quiz. Metrics of interest included perceived intensity and detection time, common metrics for gauging olfactory adaption, as well as electrodermal activity, escape behavior, and task performance. Results indicate participants in the Adaptation condition were partially desensitized to the malodor. Performance metrics did not show any statistical significance for stress, escape behavior, or performance improvement for the Adaptation condition, although there was a strong negative correlation of performance and perceived mental demand. Performance improvement and stress results were trending in the expected directions. This study differed from previous work in olfactory adaptation studies by linking adaptation to performance during a relevant complex task, and provides valuable lessons for future olfactory studies. From a more applied viewpoint, this study also provides insight for future research into the incorporation of malodors in live training.


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Graduation Date





Proctor, Michael


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science

Degree Program

Modeling and Simulation









Release Date

December 2023

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)