From The Boston Globe:
That’s the provocative suggestion of a recent study in the journal Psychological Science. A team of researchers found that when people were in a room recently spritzed with a citrus-scented cleanser, they behaved more fairly when playing a classic trust game. In another experiment, the smell of cleanser made subjects more likely to volunteer for a charity. The findings suggest that simply smelling something clean makes people clean up their behavior – that a smell can provoke a mental leap between cleanliness and morality, making people think differently about the world around them. The authors even suggested that clean smells could be employed as a tool to influence how people act.
The idea that a smell can affect something as complex as ethical behavior seems surprising, not least because smell has long been seen as a “lower” sense, playing on our emotions and instincts while our reason and judgment operate on another plane. But research increasingly shows that smell doesn’t just affect how we feel: It affects how we think, in ways that are just beginning to be understood.
Other studies have confirmed that scents can trigger generosity, and that they affect our decision-making processes and judgments rather than just emotions. Even when smells aren’t on the forefront of our consciousness, our minds are trying to match them with other sensory information to interpret our surroundings.