The neuronal substrates of human olfactory based kin recognition

Authors

  • Johan N. Lundström,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada and Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
    • Monell Chemical Senses Center, 3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • Julie A. Boyle,

    1. Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada and Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
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  • Robert J. Zatorre,

    1. Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada and Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
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  • Marilyn Jones-Gotman

    1. Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada and Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
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Abstract

Kin recognition, an evolutionary phenomenon ubiquitous among phyla, is thought to promote an individual's genes by facilitating nepotism and avoidance of inbreeding. Whereas isolating and studying kin recognition mechanisms in humans using auditory and visual stimuli is problematic because of the high degree of conscious recognition of the individual involved, kin recognition based on body odors is done predominantly without conscious recognition. Using this, we mapped the neural substrates of human kin recognition by acquiring measures of regional cerebral blood flow from women smelling the body odors of either their sister or their same-sex friend. The initial behavioral experiment demonstrated that accurate identification of kin is performed with a low conscious recognition. The subsequent neuroimaging experiment demonstrated that olfactory based kin recognition in women recruited the frontal-temporal junction, the insula, and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex; the latter area is implicated in the coding of self-referent processing and kin recognition. We further show that the neuronal response is seemingly independent of conscious identification of the individual source, demonstrating that humans have an odor based kin detection system akin to what has been shown for other mammals. Hum Brain Mapp 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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