October 26, 2009
More Fairness And Charity In Clean-Smelling Rooms

Some people think they make decisions for conscious reasons using their rational faculties. They are so funny. Others treat their emotions as conduits to a supernatural realm of truth and enlightenment. If they are really tapped into the supernatural then the supernatural realm is pretty overrated. But people are led around by their noses without even knowing it.

People are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments, according to a soon-to-be published study led by a Brigham Young University professor.

The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.

Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management, is the lead author on the piece in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. 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.

Want to bring out the worst in people? Put them in smelly rooms.

The first experiment evaluated fairness. As a test of whether clean scents would enhance reciprocity, participants played a classic “trust game.” Subjects received $12 of real money (allegedly sent by an anonymous partner in another room). They had to decide how much of it to either keep or return to their partners who had trusted them to divide it fairly. Subjects 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. But the people in the clean-scented room gave back an average of $5.33.

Clean rooms also increased willingness to volunteer and donate to charity.

That's just the sense of smell. We have other senses. What does room color do to us? Which color makes us most unfair? Red? Yellow? Is it the same color that makes us most cynical or most haughty? And what does the feeling of slime on one's hands do to one's disposition? Probably something similar to nasty smells is my guess.

Then we get into sound. Does Mozart make us fairer? Maybe Bach's Brandenburg Concertos do. What about Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 October 26 10:26 PM  Brain Free Will


Comments
Audacious Epigone said at October 27, 2009 6:19 PM:

I wonder if the level of specificity here is higher than is necessary. Could it be that simply being in a better mood (foul smells can put people in foul moods pretty quickly, while pleasant smells similarly enhance mood) leads to higher levels of generosity? It seems intuitive to me, anyway.

Randall Parker said at October 27, 2009 6:31 PM:

Audacious,

Your suggestion seems at least very plausible. What's needed is a big systematic experiment on a much larger scale that uses lots of different factors that affect mood to see how fairness, charity, and other impulses are affected.

Did you also read my testosterone post about male generosity? Does testosterone make men feel in a better mood and at the same time less generous?

Bob Badour said at October 27, 2009 7:04 PM:

Angry 'roid ragers are in good moods!?! Who knew?

Dublin Brian said at October 28, 2009 2:09 PM:

Its amazing that companies dont pay more attention to research like this. In my experience productivity is significantly higher in workplaces that are clean, pleasant and well lit. Yet still managers persist with squeezing more workers into small windowless workplaces and expecting unrealistic levels of output.

Dublin Brian said at October 28, 2009 2:11 PM:

Its amazing that companies dont pay more attention to research like this. In my experience productivity is significantly higher in workplaces that are clean, pleasant and well lit. Yet still managers persist with squeezing more workers into small, windowless, noisy workplaces and expecting unrealistic levels of output.

Dublin Brian said at October 28, 2009 2:12 PM:

Its amazing that companies dont pay more attention to research like this. In my experience productivity is significantly higher in workplaces that are clean, pleasant and well lit. Yet still managers persist with squeezing more workers into small, windowless, noisy workplaces and expecting unrealistic levels of output.

Ehkzu said at October 29, 2009 4:20 PM:

The sociobiology of this is clear to me. Bad smells equate with dangerous/hostile environments that kick the brain into survival mode. Embrasive generosity correlates with feeling personally safe.

Audacious Epigone said at October 29, 2009 7:19 PM:

I don't know, but my reaction is similar to Bob's--it's not obvious to me that higher levels of testosterone enhance male moods.

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