Can A Fragrance Make You More Moral?

Want to be treated with a little more kindness? Surround yourself with a clean scent, say Brigham Young, Northwestern and Rotman researchers who have attempted to prove an olfactory application of the expression "cleanliness is next to godliness."

Participants in two experiments were split into two rooms-one with no noticeable scent and the other with a clean scent. In the first test, they were told that someone had sent them money, which they were trusted to divide fairly and then send back a portion to the sender. Those in the clean-scented room sent about half of the money back on average, but those in the unscented room scent back less that a quarter.

In the second test, participants were asked if they would like to volunteer with and donate money to Habitat for Humanity. Those in the clean-scented room expressed higher interest in working on volunteer projects, and 22% were willing to donate money, compared to only 6% in the unscented room.

"Researchers have known for years that scents play an active role in reviving positive or negative experiences," even though the scents may not be obvious to the smeller, explained Northwestern's Adam Galinsky. "Now, our research can offer more insight into the links between people's charitable actions and their surroundings."

Would people treat you more ethically if you smelled "clean"? Or would you be more generous if you were wearing a clean scent? At this point, personal fragrances' effects on ethics are unknown. However, as Galinsky points out, the purported effect of atmospheric scents is compelling.

"Basically, our study shows that morality and cleanliness can go hand-in-hand."