Posted in Miscellany

*Cleanliness is next to Godliness

And it turns out to be true, if you define godliness to encompass such virtues as honesty and generosity.

Chen-Bo Zhong has previously studied people’s craving for cleanliness when prompted to think of their misdeeds, which he called the Lady MacBeth effect. (You have to admire a psychologist who names effects after literary characters, don’t you?)

Now, along with Katie Liljenquist and Adam Galinsky, he has gone on to show that clean smells make people behave better. Volunteers were place in a room that was either unscented or slightly scented with a pleasant citrus odour. They then played a game in which they had a choice as to how they would share their profits. They were told that they were the receivers in a game where senders chose how much money to share with the receiver. The amount they shared was tripled, and then the receiver decided how much to give back.

Of course there weren’t any actual senders. The point was to see what the receivers would decide to do about sending money back to the unknown senders, and if their decision would be affected by what they smelled, even though they later reported not noticing the scent or not caring about it. When the facts were in, those in the scented room looked at their $12 pot of money and sent back $5.33 on average, while people who weren’t under the influence of nice lemony smells sent back a stingy $2.81, less than a quarter of what the kindly (albeit fake) senders had sent.

Another game tested people’s willingness to volunteer or donate toward a cause. Pleasant scents increased their interest in volunteering and made them four times as willing to donate money. (However I find it interesting that money was more tractable than time.)

Chen-Bo Zhong, Vanessa Bohns and Francesca Gino also tested the effect of light on people’s virtue. In one experiment, students were either in a well lit or dim class. Then they had to report how many problems they finished on a math test, for which they were allowed to keep 50 cents per problem they reported completing. It was all on the honour system. On average all the students in both rooms finished 7.3 problems. In the bright room, the students exaggerated slightly, reporting 7.8, but in the dim room, ah there, the students claimed to have done 11.5, exaggerating by over 50%.

In another experiment, the students either wore clear or sunglasses. The students were given $6, from which they could allocate some money to an anonymous partner in another room. Students wearing clear glasses gave nearly half their money to their unknown partners, while those wearing sunglasses gave less than a third.

(Full story at Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Okay folks so here’s the conclusion: light up the U.N. and lemon scent the peace talk rooms. And all those world leaders wearing sunglasses? Take them off. Let’s see your eyes.

One more thing, seeing as how my older daughter is eleven now. When she hits adolescence, I’m only discussing where she’s been and with whom while serving her lemonade.

Lemon of Genova, Wikipedia Commons


Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

12 thoughts on “*Cleanliness is next to Godliness

  1. Oh dear – I can’t leave the house without wearing sunglasses – I have to have them, but I promise it’s not because I’ve got something to hide!!!

    The lemon-scented thing is so funny – I always buy lemon-scented everything – detergent, washing powder, dishwashing powder, whatever. I love lemons. I cook with them every chance I get. I even used to take them to school for recess instead of other fruits. I was very young and the teachers were so concerned about it that they even called my mother to discuss it – seems like I may have been on the right track after all!

  2. Or maybe someone should bake the UN some lemon squares! And I’m with Doctordi – I’m a big lemon fan. Just a big bowl of them in the kitchen makes me feel happy.

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