Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Next to Godliness

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Next to Godliness

Article excerpt

BENEVOLENCE

Looking for the cleanest possible way to increase charitable donations? Spray citrusscented Windex. According to new research, "people are more likely to engage in moral behavior when they are in a cleanscented room," says lead author Katie Liljenquist, an assistant professor of organizational leadership at Brigham Young University.

A few years ago Liljenquist and her coauthor discovered that moral "purity" is more than a metaphor. "When people recall an unethical behavior, they feel literally dirty," Liljenquist says, and try to "wash away their sins" with an antiseptic wipe. So the researchers set out to see if the reverse is true as well: Does a clean smell make people clean up their acts?

To find out, they prepared a baseline and a virtuous-smelling space. For the scented condition Liljenquist would run into the center of the room and spritz a little lemon Windex just before the participant arrived. Participants then either played a one- shot anonymous trust game or filled out a survey requesting donations to and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.

Game players learned that their (imaginary) partner had just very trustingly turned over his or her entire $4 to the participant. The money would be tripled because of the partner's brave move. The participants then had to decide how much of the resulting $12 to share with the partner, who was now completely at their mercy. Windexinfluenced people were "more fair and generous in reuirning an even share of the money," Liljenquist says. …

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