How Scent Stimulates Social Interaction

Scent stimulates social interaction

Social interaction is universally viewed as a positive thing. People derive numerous benefits from interacting with others, whether they are close family and friends, acquaintances, neighbors or strangers. Some studies have pointed out that it is absolutely necessary for our health and wellbeing. But meaningful social interaction can be elusive when we are increasingly absorbed in phones and other technology.

From a business or organizational perspective, increased social interaction can have numerous benefits. For example, retail and service businesses want to encourage customers to interact with salespeople and other staff. Companies may want employees in certain departments or teams to work together on projects. Entertainment venues want to foster a feeling of shared experience during sporting or performing arts events. The list goes on. But how can you get people to interact with strangers? Researchers at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration set out to test whether scent would make a difference.

Studying Social Interaction

Researchers recruited groups of 12 participants to join a focus group. When they arrived, they were taken to a waiting room that was scented or unscented as a control. The researchers told the subjects that the focus group leader was running late. Subjects then stayed in the waiting room for 15 minutes before going into another room for the focus group.

They were video taped while in the waiting room to determine how much social interaction took place. Researchers then looked at the recordings and noted the number and length of affiliation behaviors. Affiliation behaviors include coming close to another person or group, smiling and saying something. They also noted social interaction behaviors such as having a conversation, maintaining eye contact, laughing together with others, exchanging information and physical contact. Lastly, they recorded avoidance behavior like sitting apart from others, staring at the ceiling and leaving a group.

The Results

The participants in the scented room ended up having about the same number of affiliation behaviors as in the unscented room, but significantly more social interaction behaviors. In fact, the pleasant scent increased the number of social interactions by 52% per person on average.

The Bottom Line

The study’s authors suggested that service businesses can put these results into practice by developing a signature scent to “tangibilize” their service. Contact your Air Esscentials rep to find out how you can create a signature scent.

They also suggested that hotels provide ambient scenting for conference centers and meeting rooms, where social interaction among guests is a primary goal.

Really, the possibilities are endless. Anywhere that people congregate can benefit from those people talking and getting along. Social interaction makes people happier, and that is a win no matter how you look at it.