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article imageStudy says clean smells unconsciously promote moral behavior

By Bob Ewing     Oct 24, 2009 in Lifestyle
A recent study, from Brigham Young University, shows people are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments
The study’s lead author is Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management. The study will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.
Study co-authors are Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
The BYU press release says people are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments. A few squirts of citrus scented Windex was sufficient to influence a noticeable improvement in ethical behavior.
“Companies often employ heavy-handed interventions to regulate conduct, but they can be costly or oppressive,” the release quotes Liljenquist.
“This is a very simple, unobtrusive way to promote ethical behavior.”
Liljenquist added, “Could be that getting our kids to clean up their rooms might help them clean up their acts, too.”
“The Smell of Virtue” is the study’s title and it involved participants taking part in several tasks. The sole difference is some worked in unscented rooms, while others worked in rooms freshly spritzed with Windex.
Participants took part in a trust game in order to determine if clean scents would enhance reciprocity. Each participant was $12 of real money (allegedly sent by an anonymous partner in another room).
The decision they were faced with was to decide how much of it to either keep or return to their partners who had trusted them to divide it fairly.
Those in clean-scented rooms were less likely to exploit the trust of their partners, returning a significantly higher share of the money.
The average amount of cash given back by the people in the “normal” room was $2.81, however, the people in the clean-scented room gave back an average of $5.33.
To discover if clean scents could influence charitable behaviour, the subjects were asked to indicate their interest in volunteering with a campus organization for a Habitat for Humanity service project and their interest in donating funds to the cause.
• Participants surveyed in a Windex-ed room were significantly more interested in volunteering (4.21 on a 7-point scale) than those in a normal room (3.29).
• 22 percent of Windex-ed room participants said they’d like to donate money, compared to only 6 percent of those in a normal room.
Follow-up questions were used to confirm the participants didn’t notice the scent in the room and that their mood at the time of the experiment didn’t affect the outcomes.
“Basically, our study shows that morality and cleanliness can go hand-in-hand,” said Galinsky of the Kellogg School.
“Researchers have known for years that scents play an active role in reviving positive or negative experiences. Now, our research can offer more insight into the links between people’s charitable actions and their surroundings.”
More about Moral, Behaviour, Clean smells
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