AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Human beings have been using pleasant fragrances since the dawn of civilization. For example, when archaeologists excavate the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs--persons who lived thousands of years ago--they often find jars containing traces of fragrant oils (used for anointing one's body) and various forms of incense--substances that, when burned, release pleasant odors. These two major uses of fragrance have continued until the present. Current magazines are filled with ads for perfumes and colognes, and sales of devices for releasing pleasant smells into the air have been rising steadily in recent years (Foderaro, 1988). Indeed, the present author has contributed in a small way to this activity. He has patented a device for enhancing indoor environments through air filtration, noise control, and the release of pleasant fragrances (Edwards, 1995).
Do pleasant fragrances actually yield the beneficial effects that many persons assume? This question has recently received increased attention from social psychologists (e.g., DeBono, 1992; Knasko, 1993; Ludvigson & Rottman, 1989; Warm, Dember, & Parasuraman, 1991). In one sense, this growing interest in the potential effects of pleasant odors represents a logical extension of a line of investigation that has continued for more than 20 years in social psychology: efforts to study the effects of environmental variables such as temperature (Anderson, Deuser, & DeNeve, 1995; Baron, 1983a), lighting (Baron, Rea, & Daniels, 1992; Gifford, 1988), noise (Becker et al., 1992), and air quality (Baron, 1987) on social behavior. Within this context, ambient fragrances merely constitute an additional aspect of the physical environment that may, potentially, influence behavior.
However, research on this topic also represents a scientific response to strong claims by aromatherapists and others to the effect that pleasant fragrances exert powerful (one might even say magical) effects on behavior (Tisserand, 1977). Social psychologists interested in effects of the physical environment find such claims disturbing because they rest largely on informal observation rather than systematic data. The present study and several previous experiments on the potential effects of pleasant odors (e.g., Baron & Bronfen, 1994; Baron & Thomley, 1994; Knasko, 1995; Warm et al., 1991) were undertaken to help replace such speculation with scientific knowledge.
Initial research by social psychologists on the effects of pleasant fragrances focused on their use as aids to personal grooming. Such research considered the question of whether individuals could enhance their attractiveness to others through the use of scented products such as perfumes and colognes (Baron, 1981, 1983b, 1986). More recently, researchers have turned their attention to the second use of fragrance noted above: its release into the air as a means of enhancing indoor environments. In this context, pleasant odors are not associated with a specific person; rather, they are used simply to render indoor environments more pleasant. As noted earlier, research on this topic can be viewed as an extension of previous research on the effects of the physical environment on social behavior (cf. Baron, 1994; Bell, Fisher, Baum, & Green, 1996; Gifford, in press). The results of several recent studies on this topic (e.g., Warm et al., 1991; Dunn, Sleep, & Collett, 1995) indicate that ambient pleasant odors do indeed influence behavior. For example, in two related investigations (Baron & Bronfen, 1994; Baron & Thomley, 1994), participants worked on fairly complex cognitive tasks (forming words from scrambled letters; decoding messages) either in the presence or in the absence of several different odors previously rated as very pleasant by judges. Performance on these tasks was significantly better in the presence of these odors than in their absence. Further, when asked to help either the experimenter (by volunteering to participate in another study without compensation) or another participant, persons who worked in the presence of the pleasant odors showed significantly greater helping both immediately and at a later time (i.e., a higher proportion of persons exposed to pleasant fragrances completed a questionnaire at home on their own time and returned it to the experimenter).
Previous research also suggests one potential mechanism through which ambient fragrances might influence social behavior: by producing mild increments in positive affect. Several findings offer support for this possibility. First, in some recent studies (e.g., Baron & Thomley, 1994), participants …