Clean smell promotes moral behaviour: Study

Smell of lemons evokes feelings of generosity.The smell of lemon cleaner may be enough to unconsciously influence people into being more generous and charitable, according to a new U.S.-Canadian study. The study, titled The Smell of Virtue, found that participants who were in a clean citrus-smelling room were more likely to donate to charity and share money compared to those who were in a non-scented room. Co-authored by two U.S. professors from Utah and Illinois, and Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto, the first experiment in the study put 14 participants into a scented room and another 14 into a room that had been sprayed with citrus-scented Windex glass cleaner. The 28 participants were American undergraduate students 18 to 21 years old who were randomly chosen for the study. Twelve were female. Each participant was given $12 and told they could divide the money however they wanted between themselves and a random partner in the other room. The authors found that those in the clean-scented room shared on average $5.33 while those in the non-smelling room offered an average of $2.81. Zhong said Monday that the study hinges on the theory that how clean a room smells is unconsciously linked to how pure participants see themselves. “People think of morality in terms of cleanliness or purity. When they do unethical things they literally feel unclean or dirty and they feel the need to clean themselves,” said Zhong, a professor of organizational behaviour.

“People in a clean environment might also naturally think of themselves as more moral.” In the second experiment, 99 undergraduate students, half of whom were female, were asked to fill out a questionnaire about the likelihood on a scale of one to seven on their willingness to donate money or their time to the charity Habitat for Humanity. Twenty-two per cent of participants in the clean-smelling room said they were willing to donate money compared to only six per cent of participants in the non-scented room. Zhong said the results of this study can be explored in a variety of ways. “It would be very interesting to explore implications such as what would be the easiest way to increase or improve moral behaviour in different settings, like installing a citrus clean smell to significantly reduce crime rate,” he said. None of the participants said smell was a factor in how they made their decisions, according to the study. Zhong believes other “clean scents” besides citrus may also come up with the same results. The study was expected to be published in Psychological Sciences journal early next year. news from

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