Maria Larsson, porträtt.

Maria Larsson


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Works at Department of Psychology
Telephone 08-16 39 37
Visiting address Frescati hagväg 9A
Room 214
Postal address Psykologiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me



Director Gösta Ekman's Laboratory

I am the principal investigator of the research program Our unique sense of smell which is funded by The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences 2015-2020. The research program includes national and international scientists and together we are investigating various aspects of the sense of smell. Of particular interest is to further our understanding regarding odor memory, why it is so difficult to name odors, why the early phase in dementia is associated with smell loss, and whether blind people have a better sense of smell than sighted.

More information regarding the research program Our unique sense of smell.

I earned my PhD in 1997 at Karolinska institutet. Thereafter I worked at Uppsala university and Stockholm University. Since 2009 I am professor of perception and psychophysics here at the Department of Psychology. I teach and supervise in cognition and the psychology of perception at undergraduate and graduate levels. Currently, I am supervising four doctoral students.

I am a board member of Stockholm Brain Imaging Centre (SUBIC) and of the Stockholm University Psychology Clinic.

For an updated list of publications and citation index, please see my Google Scholar page




A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2016. Stina Cornell Kärnekull (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 7

    Although evidence is mixed, studies have shown that blind individuals perform better than sighted at specific auditory, tactile, and chemosensory tasks. However, few studies have assessed blind and sighted individuals across different sensory modalities in the same study. We tested early blind (n = 15), late blind (n = 15), and sighted (n = 30) participants with analogous olfactory and auditory tests in absolute threshold, discrimination, identification, episodic recognition, and metacognitive ability. Although the multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) showed no overall effect of blindness and no interaction with modality, follow-up between-group contrasts indicated a blind-over-sighted advantage in auditory episodic recognition, that was most pronounced in early blind individuals. In contrast to the auditory modality, there was no empirical support for compensatory effects in any of the olfactory tasks. There was no conclusive evidence for group differences in metacognitive ability to predict episodic recognition performance. Taken together, the results showed no evidence of an overall superior performance in blind relative sighted individuals across olfactory and auditory functions, although early blind individuals exceled in episodic auditory recognition memory. This observation may be related to an experience-induced increase in auditory attentional capacity.

  • 2016. Jonas K. Olofsson (et al.). Neuropsychologia 85, 1-9

    The ɛ4 allele of the Apolipoprotein E gene is a genetic risk factor for late-onset dementia of the Alzheimers' type (DAT), which is characterized by loss of both episodic memoryand olfactory functions. Little is known about the possible role of ɛ4 in the association between ongoing episodic memory decline and olfactory deficits in the general population, but such information is relevant in determining the relevance of olfaction as a marker of DAT risk. The present study was based on a large, population-based sample (n=1087, aged 45–90 years, of which 324 were ɛ4-carriers). Episodic memory change rates were established using data collected every 5 years for a 10–20 year interval leading up to an olfactory assessment using the Scandinavian Odor Identification Test at the last wave of data collection. Participants were classified according to whether or not their episodic memory ability declined more rapidly than the age-typical norm (by >1SD). Our main result is that only in ɛ4-carriers was episodic memory decline associated with odor identification impairment. In individuals without ɛ4, odor identification was unrelated to episodic memory decline status. Follow-up analyses indicated that this moderation by ɛ4 was due to the olfactory nature of the identification test, and that the effect was not caused by 63 individuals with dementia. Our results suggest that the ɛ4 determines the functional association between ongoing episodic memory decline and olfaction. These findings are consistent with the notion that ɛ4-carriers with DAT, compared to non-carriers, display a cortical atrophy pattern that is more focused on mediotemporal lobe regions supporting olfactory and episodic memory functions. Olfactory and memory assessments might provide complementary information on mediotemporal atrophy prior to clinical dementia onset, but the ɛ4 should be considered when using olfactory assessment as an early-stage indicator.

  • 2016. Maria Larsson (et al.). 17th International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste (ISOT2016), Yokohama, Japan, June 5-9, 2016. Chemical Senses, 41(9), E216

    The objective of this study was to examine the association between performance in odor identification and future mortality in a community cohort of adults aged between 40 and 90 years. We assessed olfactory performance with a 13-item-version of the Scandinavian Odor Identification Test (SOIT). The results showed that during follow-up (mean=9.4 years, standard deviation=2.23), 411 of 1774 (23.2%) participants died. In a Cox model, the association between higher SOIT score and mortality was highly significant (hazard ratio [HR]=0.74, per point interval, 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.71–0.77, p<0.001). The effect was attenuated, but remained significant after controlling for age, sex, education, and health and cognitive variables that were also associated with an increased risk of mortality (HR=0.92, 95% CI=0.87–0.97, p=0.001). Controlling for dementia conversion prior to death did not attenuate the association between SOIT score and mortality (HR=0.92, 95% CI=0.87–0.97, p=0.001). Similar results were obtained for olfactory sensitivity as assessed by self-report. Overall, the present findings show that poor odor identification performance is associated with an increased likelihood of future mortality in middle-aged and older adults, after controlling for social, cognitive, and medical risk factors. Most importantly, controlling for the development of dementia did not attenuate the association between odor identification and mortality, suggesting that olfactory decline might mark deteriorating health also irrespective of dementia.

  • 2016. Maria Larsson (et al.). Neurobiology of Aging 38, 118-126

    The neuroanatomical organization that underlies olfactory memory is different from that of other memory types. The present work examines olfactory memory in an elderly population-based sample (Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen) aged 60-100 years (n = 2280). We used structural equation modeling to investigate whether olfactory memory in old age is best conceptualized as a distinct category, differentiated from episodic and semantic memory. Further, potential olfactory dedifferentiation and genetic associations (APOE) to olfactory function in late senescence were investigated. Results are in support of a 3-factor solution where olfactory memory, as indexed by episodic odor recognition and odor identification, is modeled separately from episodic and semantic memory for visual and verbal information. Increasing age was associated with poorer olfactory memory performance, and observed age-related deficits were further exacerbated for carriers of the APOE epsilon 4 allele; these effects tended to be larger for olfactory memory compared to episodic and semantic memory pertaining to other sensory systems (vision, auditory). Finally, stronger correlations between olfactory and episodic memory, indicating dedifferentiation, were observed in the older age groups.

  • 2017. Rebecka N. Addo (et al.). Perception 46 (3-4), 530-537

    Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are often characterized by atypical sensory behavior (hyper- or hyporeactivity) although evidence is scarce regarding olfactory abilities in ASD; 16 adults with high-functioning ASD (mean age: 38.2, SD: 9.7) and 14 healthy control subjects (mean age: 42.0 years, SD: 12.5) were assessed in odor threshold, free and cued odor identification, and perceived pleasantness, intensity, and edibility of everyday odors. Although results showed no differences between groups, the Bayes Factors (close to 1) suggested that the evidence for no group differences on the threshold and identification tests was inconclusive. In contrast, there was some evidence for no group differences on perceived edibility (BF01 = 2.69) and perceived intensity (BF01 = 2.80). These results do not provide conclusive evidence for or against differences between ASD and healthy controls on olfactory abilities. However, they suggest that there are no apparent group differences in subjective ratings of odors.

  • 2017. Maria Josefsson (et al.). Scientific Reports 7

    Characterizing aging-related decline trajectories in mental abilities, and relationships of the epsilon 4 allele of the Apolipoprotein gene, helps to identify individuals at high risk for dementia. However, longitudinal changes in olfactory and non-olfactory cognitive abilities have not been investigated in relation to the epsilon 4 allele. In the present study, participants from a large population-based study (657 middle-aged and 556 old) were tested over 10 years on their performance on an odor identification task and three non-olfactory cognitive tasks; MMSE, episodic memory, and semantic memory. Our key finding is that in middle-aged participants, odor identification declined twice as fast for epsilon 4/4 homozygotes, compared to non-carriers. However, in old participants, the epsilon 4/4 homozygotes showed an impaired odor identification ability, but they declined at a similar rate as the non-carriers. Furthermore, in old participants all assessments displayed aging-related declines, but exaggerated declines in epsilon 4-carriers were found only in MMSE and episodic memory assessments. In sum, we present evidence that odor identification ability starts to decline already in middle-aged, and that carriers of epsilon 4/4, who are at highest risk of developing dementia, decline twice as fast. Our results may have implications for use of odor identification assessment in detection of early-stage dementia.

  • 2017. Maria Larsson, Carlos Tirado, Stefan Wiens. Frontiers in Psychology 8

    Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are often accompanied by atypical visual, auditory, and tactile sensory behavior. Evidence also suggests alterations of the olfactory system, but the pattern of findings appears mixed. To quantify this pattern systematically, we conducted a meta-analysis. Studies were included if they examined olfactory function (i.e., odor threshold, or odor identification) in ASD compared with healthy age-matched control groups. We also coded for the potential moderators gender, age, and IQ. Articles were identified through computerized literature search using Web of Science, PubMed, and Scopus databases. A total of 11 articles compared odor threshold and/or odor identification between cases and controls (for threshold, n = 143 ASD and 148 controls; and for identification, n = 132 ASD and 139 controls). Effects sizes showed a substantial heterogeneity. As a result, the 95% prediction intervals were wide and ranged between a large negative and a large positive effect size for odor threshold, [-1.86, 2.05], and for odor identification, [-1.51, 2.52]. Exploratory analyses suggested that age and IQ may be potential moderators. To conclude, the large heterogeneity is consistent with the notion of both hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity in individuals with ASD. However, future research needs to predict and test the specific direction of the effect to provide convincing evidence for atypical olfactory functions in ASD.

  • 2017. Janina Seubert (et al.). The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences 72 (8), 1072-1079

    Background: Olfactory dysfunction (OD) in old age is associated with poor health outcomes. Interrelationships among different correlates of OD can offer insights into the underlying mechanisms, but to date remain understudied. Methods: Odor identification performance and self-reported olfactory functioning were studied in 2,234 people aged 60-90 years, who were free of neurodegenerative disease and enrolled in the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen (SNAC-K) study, Stockholm, Sweden. OD was defined as the inability to identify more than 10 out of 16 odors (free or cued identification) in a standardized odor identification task. OD prevalence was estimated, and associations with demographic, genetic, vascular, clinical, and behavioral factors, as well as their interactions were examined using multiple logistic regression analyses. Results: Overall prevalence of OD was 24.8% (CI: 23.1; 26.6). Self-reports were characterized by low sensitivity (35%), but high specificity (87%). Advancing age (OR = 15.50, CI = 9.40; 26.10 between the first and last age group), and history of coronary heart disease (OR = 1.35, 95% CI = 1.04; 1.75) were the principal factors associated with an increased probability of OD, whereas female gender (OR = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.43; 0.66) and more years of education (OR = 0.97, CI 0.94; 0.99) were linked to a lower probability. Exploratory interaction analyses indicated that prevalence of OD was particularly elevated among Apolipropotein E (APOE) epsilon 4 allele carriers who were also obese, and that being physically active counteracted the negative impact of cerebrovascular disease on OD. Conclusion: Demographic and genetic factors, but also prior and current health insults, are linked to OD in old age. Modulatory effects of behavioral factors highlight their value as possible prevention targets.

  • Article Phantom Smells
    2017. Sara Sjölund (et al.). Chemical Senses 42 (4), 309-318

    Loss of olfactory function is common in old age, but evidence regarding qualitative olfactory dysfunction in the general older population is scarce. The current study investigates the prevalence and correlates of phantom smell experiences (phantosmia) in a population-based study (Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen [SNAC-K]) of Swedish adults (n = 2569) aged between 60 and 90 years. Phantosmia was assessed through a standardized interview and defined as reporting having experienced an odor percept in the absence of any stimuli in the surrounding environment that could emit the odor. The relationships between phantosmia and demographic, genetic, health-related, and behavioral variables were analyzed with hierarchical logistic regression analyses. The overall prevalence of phantom smells was 4.9%, and was associated with female gender, carrying the met allele of the BDNF gene, higher vascular risk burden, and reporting distorted smell sensations (parosmia). Olfactory dysfunction was, however, not related to phantosmia. The most frequently reported phantom smell was smoky/burnt. A novel finding was that some individuals reported phantom smells with an autobiographical connotation. The results from this study indicate that the prevalence of phantosmia in the general older population is not negligible and that some factors that are beneficial for preserved olfactory function, such as female gender and the BDNF met allele, are also associated with the occurrence of phantom smells.

  • Stina Cornell Kärnekull (et al.).

    Autobiographical memories (AMs) evoked by sensory cues, such as words, pictures, and sounds, typically form reminiscence bumps in adolescence and young adulthood. However, odors constitute an exception by shifting the bump to early childhood. Olfaction may be a “sense of first impressions”, as indicated by a unique hippocampal representation in the brain for first odor-to-object associations. However, the influence of the individual’s sensory function on AMs has never been examined. We examined the reminiscence bumps of sound- and odor-evoked memories of early-blind and sighted individuals, since blindness implies considerable changes in sensory experience. Despite such changes, the groups displayed similar age distributions of both sound- and odor-evoked memories. The auditory bump seemed to span the first two decades of life, whereas the olfactory bump was once again found in early childhood. Hence, the reminiscence bumps were robust to differences in sensory function and experience.

  • Ingrid Ekström (et al.).
Show all publications by Maria Larsson at Stockholm University

Last updated: January 29, 2020

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