Women Exposure to Pleasant Ambient Fragrance and Receptivity to a Man’s Courtship Request
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- Guéguen, N. Chem. Percept. (2011) 4: 195. doi:10.1007/s12078-011-9096-2
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It has been previously found that pleasant scents favored positive social relationships. Nevertheless, the effect of such odor on romantic relationships has never been tested. In a laboratory setting, young women were exposed or not with pleasant ambient odors (croissant) that were spread in a room. Hereafter, in another room without any odor, women were solicited for a courtship request by an attractive young male confederate. It was found that women agreed more often to the confederate’s courtship solicitation in the pleasant-smelling condition. Positive mood induced by ambient odors may explain such results.
Several experimental studies have shown that human social relationships are positively affected by ambient aromas. Baron (1997) observed that passersby in areas with pleasant food odors (e.g., pastry or coffee shop) were more willing to accept a request for change from a confederate than passersby walking in a zone with neutral odors (e.g., clothing shops). Grimes (1999) found that students volunteered to spend more time on work when they were exposed to a vanilla or lavender odor before the request. Baron and Thomley (1994) also showed that participants exposed to a pleasant odor during a learning task were more willing to comply with the experimenter’s request for help at the end of the task. Similarly, James (2006) found that undergraduate students who answered a questionnaire which had been saturated or not with a lavender or peppermint aroma consented more favorably to take part in a telephone survey and to mail back food labels.
All these studies show that pleasant ambient odor facilitates altruistic behavior. For a majority of these authors, this effect is explained by mood. Pleasant ambient odors could have activated a positive mood which, in turn, led the participants to respond more favorably to the confederate. The activation of a positive affect linked to the presence of a pleasant odor has been confirmed by mood measurements of participants (Baron and Thomley 1994; Grimes 1999), and several studies have found that the activation of a positive mood subsequently favored altruism (Harris and Smith 1975; Levin and Isen 1975; Weyant 1978; Bizman et al. 1980; Job 1987).
Thus, if pleasant ambient scents seem to facilitate compliance to solicitation, we can hypothesize that other behaviors, such as a courtship solicitation, are affected by ambient odors. In another experiment, a woman confederate, wearing heavy perfume, walked in a pedestrian zone and dropped a package of paper tissues or a glove apparently without realizing it (Guéguen 2001). It was found that pedestrians alerted the confederate more often when wearing perfume. However, this effect was found only when considering men’s behavior. This effect was perhaps explained by the romantic connotation associated with perfume. Thus, it could be possible that ambient odors also influence romantic relationships such as receptivity to a courtship request.
In the experiment reported here, women were solicited for their phone number by a male confederate while they were previously exposed to pleasant ambient food odors. It was hypothesized that more compliance would be obtained in pleasant ambient odors condition.
One hundred twenty-eight social and managerial science female undergraduate students ranging in age from 18 to 20 years (M = 19.2, SD = 0.6) were solicited to participate in a research project on personal perception that was to be carried out the following week. A survey to collect demographic data administered to the young women included a question about whether the participant had “someone in her life at the moment”. Only those participants who declared having nobody in their lives (N = 73) were retained for the experiment. Participants were randomly assigned to the pleasant odor condition (N = 36) or the neutral no odor condition (N = 37).
The selection of the confederate was based on an earlier test in which 22 young women (none of whom participated in this study) were asked to rate the physical attractiveness of a group of 14 men. The evaluation was made by using a full face photograph of each target. The women were instructed to evaluate each target on a scale ranging from 0 (low physical attractiveness) to 9 (high physical attractiveness). The confederate with the highest score for attractiveness and the lowest standard deviation was chosen by the experimenter (M = 7.08, SD = 2.07). The control of attractiveness was used because our objective was to test a courtship request addressed by the confederate to the participants. It was shown in a previous experiment (Guéguen 2011b) that it is difficult to obtain positive responses to courtship request in laboratory setting. Using an attractive confederate avoided creating conditions in which the ceiling effect of compliance was low. The confederate was briefed about the workings of the experiment but was unaware of the ultimate aim of the study and the experimental conditions to which the participants were exposed.
Each participant and the male confederate were first welcomed by the experimenter and led together into a room with a table and four chairs. A laptop computer was present on the table.
The experimenter informed the participant and the confederate that the study focused on personal perception and that each of them would view, separately, a video of a young man. The experimenter then led the participant into an adjacent room, leaving the confederate to view the video alone. The 6.5 × 4-m room where the experiment was carried out was equipped with a sofa, two armchairs, a coffee table and a 2 × 0.6 × 1.2-m sideboard. A laptop computer was placed on the coffee table. In the pleasant odor condition, 5 min before the participant entered in the room, an electric room fragrance diffuser was turned on that diffused artificial fragrance of croissant for 2 min. The recognition of the odor was evaluated in a pretest where 28 undergraduate women were instructed to enter in this room and to identify the odor. Twenty-seven (96.4%) stated that the room smelled croissant, whereas one (3.6%) stated that the room smelled bread. These participants were also instructed to evaluate the pleasantness of the odor on a scale ranging from 0 (low pleasantness) to 9 (high pleasantness). A high pleasantness mean was found (M = 8.14, SD = 0.73). Thus, we decided to use this ambient fragrance in our experiment.
Six participants were tested each day and, according to a random order, ambient smell versus no ambient smell condition was used all along a day. At the end of the day, the room was aired for 12 h in both experimental conditions.
The experimenter instructed the participant to watch the video and to wait until she reappeared. After 7 min, the experimenter reentered the room and asked the participant to follow her into the room where the confederate was waiting. The participant and confederate were then asked to share their impressions about the video they had just viewed, while the experimenter left the room briefly to get a printed questionnaire.
The two participants were then left alone. The confederate, who was unaware of the experimental condition of the participant, had been previously instructed to present his impression first, always using the same arguments in each interaction. After 5 min, the experimenter reentered the room and stopped the interaction. At this point, the experimenter indicated that there was a small problem with the computer and that she needed several more minutes to print the questionnaire. She then left the room for the second time, leaving the participant and the confederate alone, but without a specific task to accomplish; the confederate and the participant were simply asked to wait for her return.
During this phase, the confederate had been instructed to smile and to say to the participant “My name is Antoine, you seem very nice. I wonder, would you would give me your phone number. I could call you later and we could get together for a drink somewhere next week”. The phone number was solicited because a previous study carried out in France (Guéguen 2007) showed that this request made in the street is clearly seen by women as a courtship solicitation. Moreover, this solicitation was accompanied by another request (to have a drink) which was also previously evaluated as a courtship solicitation (Guéguen 2009).
After making his request, the confederate was instructed to wait 10 s and to gaze and smile at the participant. If the participant accepted the solicitation, the confederate wrote her phone number down. If the participant refused, the confederate was instructed to say, “Oh well, never mind. It’s not a problem” and smile again. A few seconds later, the experimenter reentered the room. The participant was probed for suspicion (none of the participants detected a relationship between courtship request and ambient odor), fully debriefed and thanked.
The number of participants who complied with the confederate’s solicitation was used as the dependant variable. In the ambient fragrance condition, 66.7% (24/36) complied with the confederate’s request compared with 40.5% (17/37) in the neutral no ambient fragrance condition. The difference was significant [χ² (1, N = 73) = 5.01, p = 0.03, r = 0.25].
Young women agreed more likely to give their phone number to a young man when they were previously exposed to pleasant ambient odors. These results are consistent with previous studies that showed that pleasant ambient odors foster social relationships (Baron 1997; Baron and Thomley 1994; Grimes 1999; Guéguen 2001; James 2006). Such behavioral results could be explained by mood given the fact that previous studies found that exposure to pleasant odors is associated with an increase in mood measures (Baron and Thomley 1994; Grimes 1999). Guéguen (2011a) found that women’s positive mood was associated with greater receptivity to a male’s courtship request. Such a mood effect could explain why the women in our experiment agreed more favorably to the confederate’s request when solicited after their exposure to pleasant ambient odors. Finding this positive effect on courtship relationships, whereas most previous studies focused on altruism, seems to show that a large range of social behaviors could be influenced by ambient odors.