The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex. … [To appear in] a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. … “Could be that getting our kids to clean up their rooms might help them clean up their acts, too.”
The study titled “The Smell of Virtue” was unusually simple and conclusive. Participants engaged in several tasks, the only difference being that some worked in unscented rooms, while others worked in rooms freshly spritzed with Windex. …
Subjects in clean-scented rooms were less likely to exploit the trust of their partners, returning a significantly higher share of the money. The average amount of cash given back by the people in the “normal” room was $2.81. But the people in the clean-scented room gave back an average of $5.33. … Participants surveyed in a Windex-ed room were significantly more interested in volunteering (4.21 on a 7-point scale) than those in a normal room (3.29). 22 percent of Windex-ed room participants said they’d like to donate money, compared to only 6 percent of those in a normal room.
Follow-up questions confirmed that participants didn’t notice the scent in the room and that their mood at the time of the experiment didn’t affect the outcomes. … Their 2006 paper in Science reported that transgressions activated a desire to be physically cleansed.
In my experience, the touchy-feely folks who talk the most about wanting to encourage more trust and charity do not get along that well with the anal folks who want everything to be very clean. So I expect the first group will be reluctant to accept that this second group has been right all along – they want more charity their way, via folks feeling guilty, not via folks feeling clean. So even if this study is confirmed by further research, I expect lots of resistance to its policy implications. After all, politics is less about policy, and charity less about outcomes, than about who should be admired.
Hat tip to Bruce Bartlett.