Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation

L'expérience sensorielle du nouveau-né et sa rétention à long terme: une analyse expérimentale de l'apprentissage des odeurs chez l'enfant humain

Abstract : Our understanding of the mechanisms and timing of early olfactory memory remains scarce in
humans. Their appreciation may be useful, however, to explain how the earliest odour preferences develop
and whether these can influence behaviour in the long run. The present research aims at assessing the
development of selective responses to odours and their endurance over spans ranging from hours to over a
year. The methodological approach is experimental and “naturalistic” as it exploits a highly ecological
learning context, breastfeeding. Three objectives are pursued: 1) Confirming that newborns can acquire the
natural odours of their mother's breast; 2) Assessing whether an artificial odorant put on the breast is
encoded and retained for several hours; 3) Evaluating the long term retention of the olfactory experience
received while suckling during the first weeks of life. The results are as follows:
1) 3-4 day-old newborn detects various odorous substrates from the mother's breast (breast odour,
areolar secretions, milk) or neck. However, the simultaneous presentation of these distinct substrates
releases undifferentiated responses. Thus, newborns' attraction toward these mammary and non mammary
substrates is nearly equivalent, suggesting either that they carry common compounds or that they were all
associated with similar reinforcing events. 2) Advantage was taken of a local practice consisting in coating
breasts with a scented pomade, thus exposing the nursling to the odour of camomile. Such exposure leads to
the establishment of a significant preference for camomile in the exposed group of 3-4 day-old newborns,
but not in a non exposed group matched in age. The attractiveness of camomile equals that of the mother's
milk after on average 50% of nursing episodes with camomile present. Thus, a common reinforcing context
can lead to similar attraction responses. 3) Evidence for long term retention of the camomile odour acquired
during the first weeks of breastfeeding can be detected in age-adequate tests made at 6-8 and on 18-23
month-old. Thus, young children can retrieve odour information that was encoded at least 15.5-22.5 months
before, when the camomile-breastfeeding were discontinued.
These results confirm that maternal odours are salient cues in the environment of human newborns,
and that breastfeeding can promote lasting olfactory preferences. Such olfactory preferences are sufficiently enduring to be retained more than a year after the exposure discontinuation. Early odour learning at the breast is thus in a situation to influence the infants' behaviour when they have to respond selectively when facing diversification in the food and social domains.
Keywords : these
Document type :
Domain :
Complete list of metadata

Cited literature [235 references]  Display  Hide  Download
Contributor : Sabine Gros Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Friday, July 13, 2007 - 2:23:30 PM
Last modification on : Friday, February 11, 2022 - 3:40:03 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Friday, November 25, 2016 - 5:01:32 PM


  • HAL Id : tel-00162433, version 1
  • PRODINRA : 251550



Maryse Delaunay-El Allam. L'expérience sensorielle du nouveau-né et sa rétention à long terme: une analyse expérimentale de l'apprentissage des odeurs chez l'enfant humain. domain_other. Université de Bourgogne, 2007. Français. ⟨tel-00162433⟩



Record views


Files downloads