Lemon Anyone?

Posted by Kevin Bishop - April 4, 2011
Filed in Culture

Some people collect stamps, knit or spend hours planning their next exotic holiday – I collect articles and books on behaviour change! I admit it, I’m a geek when it comes to trying to understand why we do what we do, and how you can go about changing it.

I’m not too proud to say: “Hi, my name’s Kevin and I am addicted to understanding how to change behaviour”.

One of the most fascinating areas I have been looking at lately is the impact scents have on our behaviour.

Retailers have long recognised the positive effects that smells can have on people’s buying behaviours. Supermarkets lure shoppers with wafts of baking bread and we have all heard stories of Real Estate agents telling people to freshly brew coffee when having an open home. Other businesses are signing on too, some choosing scents that carry apt connotations for particular products they want to sell, a technique called billboarding.

Bloomingdale’s, for instance, billboards the smell of baby powder in its infant-clothing department, while hints of lilac waft around the department store’s intimate-apparel displays. American upscale ice cream chain Emack & Bolio’s recently adopted a waffle-cone smell to attract patrons to the scoop shop within their Hard Rock Hotel branch, where sales had been flagging. The effect? Ice cream sales shot up more than a third.

Now the office world, too, is seeking its own unique aroma to lift employees’ spirits and even reduce mistakes.

A recent study in a financial services company concluded that staff made 40% fewer errors when surrounded by the smell of cinnamon. Another employer used lavender to soothe the stressed-out staff at a frenetic call centre.

Despite the Big Brother connotations of squirting mood-enhancing smells into the workplace via air cooling systems or stand-alone “fragrance delivery” machines, the use of aromas to get up the noses of employees is on the increase.

Signature Aromas currently supplies more than 40 different natural, oil-based fragrances . “Japanese employers routinely use their air-conditioning systems to disperse ‘wake-up’ fragrances such as citrus early in the morning, floral notes to boost concentration when the late morning hubbub is at its height and woody scents like cedar or cypress to relieve tiredness in the afternoon,” says Brian Chappell, the director of Signature Aromas.

C Interactive, a client of Scent Technologies, had initial reservations when it decided to introduce citrus smells into its sales office to boost alertness.  “We didn’t really expect anything much to happen and started off surreptitiously, with an aroma box that looked like an air vent, because we weren’t sure of the staff would like the idea,” says Daniel Graham. However the effects were so dramatic that the company explained to its sales staff their new enthusiasm for work. “Since introducing aroma machines into the office, our turnover has increased by 10%, absenteeism is down and we have a far more energised sales force,” says Graham.

The idea of having scents pumped through the air conditioning system at work, either with or without my knowledge, is one that doesn’t appeal to me in the least. You can not avoid it, you don’t have a choice whether to breath it in or not, and feels way too ‘Big Brother’ for me.

Smell can also have an impact on our ethics.

Chen-Bo Zhong, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, conducted a series of small experiments designed to test how changes in an environment — differences in smell — can affect human behaviour. Participants were randomly assigned to rooms, some sprayed with citrus-scented window cleaner. In some of the experiments, the participants played a game of trust with an anonymous partner involving money. The way the game typically works is that one partner is given a sum of money and told to put some or all of the money in an envelope. He is told his anonymous partner will receive triple that amount and will give some of the money back. Of course, the second partner could just keep all the money.

In Zhong’s experiment, the participants played the role of the second partner and were all told their partner had given them the full mount, $4, which was then tripled to $12. The participants were free to anonymously return some or none of the money.

“What we found was that in the citrus-scented room, people were more likely to engage in good behaviours,” Zhong said. “They were more likely to honour the trust that other people displayed.”

He went on to say; “Based on the experiments we have conducted and the findings we’ve found, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that people in a real environment, where they can smell these scents that are associated with purity and cleanliness, also may tend to be behave more ethically or socially.”

Have you ever realised the impact that smell has on our behaviour? Have you ever considered using different scents in your working environment, or do you actually do it? I would love to hear any real world examples out there.

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