MCAT Monday: Processing the Environment - Taste and Smell



Foundational Concept 6: Biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors influence the ways that individuals perceive, think about, and react to the world. All sensory processing begins with first detecting a stimulus in the environment through sensory cells, receptors, and biological pathways.


After collecting sensory information, we then interpret and make sense of it. Although sensation and perception are distinct functions, they are both influenced by psychological, social, and biological factors and therefore become almost indistinguishable in practice. This complexity is illuminated by examining human sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. (via AAMC)


Practice Videos:

Practice Questions:


1. A team of developmental psychologists are testing the taste sensation in children. The researchers want to make sure that the tastants utilized do not interact with charged particles. Which of these tastant combinations should the researcher use? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: A salty tastant and a sour tastant.

  • B: A sweet tastant and an umami tastant.

  • C: A bitter tastant and a sour tastant.

  • D: A salty tastant and an umami tastant.

2. Which of these papillae categories does not contain taste buds?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Circumvallate papillae

  • B: Filiform papillae

  • C: Fungiform papillae

  • D: Foliate papillae

3. Suppose that a patient’s chorda tympani is anesthetized. What would be the consequences for the perception of taste?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: The patient would lose the ability to taste with the anterior two-thirds of the tongue, and would also lose the ability to taste with the posterior third of the tongue and the throat because these signals would still be carried by the 9^{th}thstart superscript, t, h, end superscript and 10^{th}thstart superscript, t, h, end superscript cranial nerves.

  • B: The patient would lose the ability to taste with the anterior two-thirds of the tongue, but would still be able to taste with the posterior third of the tongue and the throat because these signals would still be carried by the 9^{th}thstart superscript, t, h, end superscript and 10^{th}thstart superscript, t, h, end superscript cranial nerves.

  • C: The patient would lose the ability to taste with the posterior two-thirds of the tongue, but would still be able to taste with the anterior third of the tongue and the throat because these signals would still be carried by the 9^{th}thstart superscript, t, h, end superscript and 10^{th}thstart superscript, t, h, end superscript cranial nerves.

4. Which statement describes a difference between the pathways for taste and the pathways for vision, hearing, and touch? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Taste, like olfaction, synapses in the amygdala, while vision, hearing, and touch are first integrated in the thalamus.

  • B: Taste is perceived from the contralateral side, while vision, hearing, and touch input is mostly ipsilateral.

  • C: Taste is perceived from the ipsilateral side, while vision, hearing, and touch input is mostly contralateral.

  • D: Taste, like olfaction, synapses in the thalamus before being integrated with the other senses in the orbitofrontal cortex.

5. To study whether an olfactory receptor neuron is activated by pyradine a researcher employs an imaging technique that utilizes a chemical indicator that glows green when exposed to ultraviolet light. If a decrease in the intensity of glow observed corresponds to an increase in ionic concentration in the olfactory receptor neuron in response to an odorant, which ion would this indicator chelate? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: K^+

  • B: Cl^-

  • C: Ca^{2+}

  • D: Na^+

6. Which of these is NOT a theory of how odor is coded in the brain?

Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Gate control theory of olfaction

  • B: Vibrational theory of olfaction

  • C: Labeled-line theory of olfaction

  • D: Steric theory of olfaction

7. Many studies have shown auditory processing occurs in sleep. This is the premise behind smoke detectors. A smell researcher is interested in whether smell can be utilized in a similar fashion. The researcher chooses two odors, peppermint and pyridine. Although peppermint and pyridine have different hedonic valence, the trigeminal strength of the two odors was equal. Why was trigeminal strength controlled in this experiment? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Stimulation of the trigeminal muscle by an odor has been shown to allow agnosics to discern between odors.

  • B: Stimulation of the trigeminal gyrus by an odor has been shown to allow aphasics to discern between odors.

  • C: Stimulation of the trigeminal cortex by an odor has been shown to allow agnosics to discern between odors.

  • D: Stimulation of the trigeminal nerve by an odor has been shown to allow anosmics to discern between odors.

8. Many studies have shown auditory processing occurs in sleep. This is the premise behind smoke detectors. A smell researcher is interested in whether smell can be utilized in a similar fashion. The researcher chooses two odors, peppermint and pyridine. Although peppermint and pyridine have different hedonic valence, the trigeminal strength of the two odors was equal. Why was trigeminal strength controlled in this experiment? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Stimulation of the trigeminal muscle by an odor has been shown to allow agnosics to discern between odors.

  • B: Stimulation of the trigeminal gyrus by an odor has been shown to allow aphasics to discern between odors.

  • C: Stimulation of the trigeminal cortex by an odor has been shown to allow agnosics to discern between odors.

  • D: Stimulation of the trigeminal nerve by an odor has been shown to allow anosmics to discern between odors.

9. Where is the first place in the brain where the olfaction and gustation systems integrate? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: Thalamus

  • B: Amygdala

  • C: Nucleus of the solitary tract

  • D: Orbitofrontal cortex

10. Which answer describes the correct pathway that a signal takes from the olfactory mucosa to the frontal lobe of the brain? Choose 1 answer:

  • A: The pathway for olfaction goes from the olfactory bulb to the amygdala and the piriform cortex. From there the signal is transmitted to the orbitofrontal cortex.

  • B: The pathway for olfaction goes from the olfactory bulb to the thalamus and the piriform cortex. From there the signal is transmitted to the orbitofrontal cortex.

  • C: The pathway for olfaction goes from the olfactory bulb to the amygdala and the piriform cortex. From there the signal is transmitted to the insula.

  • D: The pathway for olfaction goes from the olfactory bulb to the thalamus and the piriform cortex. From there the signal is transmitted to the insula.

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