From the reading-too-much–into-the-results-of-a-study category, researchers have found that people are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments.
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.
The researchers see implications for workplaces, retail stores and other organizations that have relied on traditional surveillance and security measures to enforce rules.
"Companies often employ heavy-handed interventions to regulate conduct, but they can be costly or oppressive," said Liljenquist, whose office smells quite average. "This is a very simple, unobtrusive way to promote ethical behavior."
The study titled "The Smell of Virtue" was unusually simple and conclusive.
Participants engaged in several tasks, the only difference being that some worked in unscented rooms, while others worked in rooms freshly spritzed with Windex.
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.
Maybe it’s time to improve personal hygiene and stock up on the Irish Moss-scented Mennen Speed Stick.