If you want to sneakily lull your colleagues into liking you, a new study published in the journal Frontiers suggests you may want to start spritzing the joint with lavender.
Researchers in the Netherlands led by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato knew that how we respond to others depends not not only on our relationships but also on environment, the authors write. One 1997 study, for instance, showed that prosocial behavior, like picking up a dropped item from the floor, went up significantly when pleasant fragrances were in the air—rather than when air just smelled like air.
The researchers wanted to further test the theory that smell influences behavior so they set up a trust game in a room misted with one of two aromas: lavender, which is considered soothing, and peppermint, which is associated with alertness and energy. The researchers put a few drops of essential oils, diffused by a candle, in the room before the 90 young adults in the study came in to play.
The trust game is a test behavioral researchers use to measure levels of trust. One person (the "trustor") gets money, and they can keep it or give any amount of it to the other person. When they do, the profits are tripled, and the person who just got a cash infusion (the "trustee") gets to decide whether to share it with the original trustor.
Without being told about any change in scent, when people smelled lavender, they gave significantly more money than when they had sniffed peppermint or nothing at all.
"Lavender has this effect because of its calming property," said study co-author Lorenza Colzato, cognitive psychologist and assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in an email. "This hypothesis is supported by the fact that, from an anatomical point of view, the olfactory nerve is connected to the medial prefrontal cortex a brain region that 'controls' the way we trust others."
Such an intervention could be helpful in negotiations, bargaining or any kind of team spirit building, she says.