Recent newspaper reports suggest that people walking past “pleasant ambient odors (e.g., pastries)” are more likely to point out that someone (an experimental stooge) has dropped a glove than people walking past “places with no odor”. One report summed this up as:
The smell of freshly baked bread doesn’t just make you hungry. It makes you kinder.
I’m not sure that the science merits that conclusion. I tracked the research down to a paper in The Journal of Social Psychology, The Sweet Smell of … Implicit Helping: Effects of Pleasant Ambient Fragrance on Spontaneous Help in Shopping Malls but as it is behind a paywall, I’m not going to investigate further. Except to note that the author, Nicolas Guéguen, seems to have happened on a rich seam of experimental approaches. The sweet smell of… courtship: Effects of pleasant ambient fragrance on women’s receptivity to a man’s courtship request investigated another aspect of social behaviour.
18–25 year old women walking alone in a shopping mall were approached by an attractive 20 year old male-confederate who solicited them for their phone number. The women were solicited as they were walking in areas with pleasant ambient odors (e.g., pastries) or with no odor. It was found that women agreed more often to the confederate’s courtship solicitation in the pleasant smelling areas.
I’m amazed the newspapers didn’t latch onto that one.