“Dirty” Really Is Dirtier

A fun article I ran across while catching up on my reading today. Mentioned in ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (a health-industry trade website I’ve been reading in order to understand one of my fictional characters): a soon-to-be published study indicates that the smell of a clean room makes people behave better.

In one experiment, each test subject was given $12, allegedly from another person in another room, who trusted him to divide the money fairly. The test subject then had to decide how much of the $12 to keep, and how much to give to the other person. Test subjects in rooms that had been spritzed with a little citrus-scented Windex gave more money back than did those who were in unscented rooms.

In another experiment, test subjects were asked to volunteer or donate to Habitat for Humanity. Those in Windex-scented rooms were more interested than those in unscented rooms.

On reflection, this really doesn’t surprise me that much. We’ve long understood that smells induce associations and behaviors. Haven’t you ever wondered why Johnson’s baby powder smells like vanilla? Because it’s a smell we associate with maternal affection. Or why Abercrombie and Fitch stores have that distinctive smell? Because they’ve made it a brand identification to invoke buying behavior in their target market. I recently walked by a store in the mall that sold pink things—seriously, it sold lots of products, all pink—and I swear, it smelled pink.

So it makes sense that a smell that we associate with cleanliness would tend to invoke like behaviors, whether generous, ethical, or even moral.

Hey, maybe spritzing the place with Windex might even get my kids to clean up their rooms and do the dishes. Worth a try.


P.S. Also worth noting, even for the layman, in ADVANCE for SLPAs: an inspiring editorial about Humpty Dumpty and helping children grow.