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We revisited the well-known warm–cold paradigm in a 2 (cold vs. warm) × 2 (odor vs. no odor information) between-subjects experiment. The participants were read a list of character qualities describing a target (cold vs. warm and odor vs. no odor information) before judging the target on 4 dimensions related to social desirability. The results reinforce the warm– cold dimensions as central traits. However, they also go one step further. They show that describing the target as smelling like vanilla undermined the classical cold effect. When forming impressions about the target, the individual can also take external cues (such as the odor evoked) into account.
University of Lorraine
We revisited the well-known warm–cold paradigm in a 2 (cold vs. warm) × 2 (odor vs. no
odor information) between-subjects experiment. The participants were read a list of character
qualities describing a target (cold vs. warm and odor vs. no odor information) before judging
the target on 4 dimensions related to social desirability. The results reinforce the warm–
cold dimensions as central traits. However, they also go one step further. They show that
describing the target as smelling like vanilla undermined the classical cold effect. When
forming impressions about the target, the individual can also take external cues (such as the
odor evoked) into account.
Keywords: vanilla, odor evocation, warm–cold paradigm, impression formation, social
perception, social desirability.
On one hand, many researchers have demonstrated that odors have an impact
both on human behaviors (Baron, 1997; Guéguen & Petr, 2006; Saint-Bauzel &
Fointiat, 2012) and cognitions (Lehrner, Marwinski, Lehr, Johren, & Deecke,
2005; Walla et al., 2003). Baron conducted an experiment in different odorant
zones in a mall: pleasant odor zone (pastry baking) vs. neutral odor zone
(clothes). Passersby were more inclined to accept a request for change (helping
behavior) when they were in the pleasant odor zone than were those in the neutral
odor zone. Guéguen and Petr demonstrated that the diffusion of lavender aroma
in a restaurant affects consumer behaviors, increasing both the customers’ length
of stay and the amount they purchase. More recently, Saint-Bauzel and Fointiat
have shown that the foot-in-the-door procedure (a well-known technique of
influencing people, in which a requester makes a small request before asking for
SOCIAL BEHAVIOR AND PERSONALITY, 2013, 41(10), 1635-1640
© Society for Personality Research
Roxane Saint-Bauzel and Valérie Fointiat, Department of Psychology, University of Lorraine.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Roxane Saint-Bauzel, Université de
Lorraine, PErSEUs, UFR SHA, Ile du Saulcy, BP 30309 F-57 000, Metz, France. Email: roxane.
a larger one; Freedman & Fraser, 1966) could be affected by the odor worn by
the requester. On the other hand, compliance increased when the requester was
perfumed with vanilla. Lehrner et al. have demonstrated that orange as well as
lavender odors alter emotional states and that both odors reduce anxiety in dental
patients. Walla et al. showed that odors (e.g., rose) affected face recognition.
Thus, faces presented in association with a hedonically positive odor are less
accurately recognized, suggesting that the odor could have the status of a
distractor, perturbing the face encoding processes. In summary, odor, scent,
fragrance, and aroma taken together affect information processing.
Since Asch’s (1946) seminal studies, a considerable number of researchers in
social psychology have focused on the study of how people form impressions
about others. Asch’s participants were read one of two descriptions of the
hypothetical person as “intelligent – skillful – industrious – warm (description
A) versus cold (description B) – determined – practical – cautious” (p. 262).
Asch then asked the participants to assess this target person. It appears that the
participants developed different implicit theories about the personality of the
individual described; the description containing “cold” received a more negative
characterization than the description containing “warm”. He concluded that some
traits have a central status (e.g., warm or cold) and affect the global impression
of others, whereas other traits are more peripheral (e.g., blunt or polite) and exert
less influence on the global impression. When forming impressions about others,
we take a variety of cues into account. Some of them are easily perceptible, for
example physical appearance (Jones, 1990), whereas others are more “subtle
cues” (Hancock & Dunham, 2001, p. 325). In McArthur and Baron’s (1981)
study, the cognitive approach to impression formation was focused on the
processing of information. Theoretically, perceptions of the social environment
are derived from multisensory stimulus information. However, most researchers
have focused on the visual aspects of appearance. In other words, they have
focused on individual characteristics (e.g., his/her disposition, verbal elaboration,
behavior) but underestimated the potential role of contextual cues.
We support the idea that odors could be one of these neglected cues. Few
researchers have actually examined the impact odor has on social perception
(Baron, 1981; Fiore, 1992, 1993; Li, Moallem, Paller, & Gottfried, 2007).
Baron showed that male participants evaluated a female experimenter as more
attractive, and attributed more positive traits to her when she was pleasantly
perfumed. Fiore also observed that the components of an odor influence first
impressions concerning both the appearance and personality of others. She asked
female participants to think about hypothetical people, perfumed with various
feminine commercial fragrances, and to assess their personalities. There was
an association between flowery, fruity fragrances and female characters on one
hand, and spicy, strong fragrances and male characters on the other hand. This
association shows the use of a gender stereotype, bringing us to conclude that
odors will play a role at a clearly social level. More recently, Li et al. asked
participants who had unconsciously inhaled pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral
odors (ambient air) to judge neutral faces. The results showed that participants
assessed the faces more negatively when they had inhaled an unpleasant odor
than when they had inhaled a pleasant or neutral one.
In line with previous research, it appears that odors are just as essential as
environmental cues (even if they are not taken into account) as are visual aspects
of appearance. Usually, researchers explore odor cues as stimulus variables in
impression formation by exposing participants to these cues. Our aim in this
study was to test the impact of a pleasant odor evoked in the classical warm–
cold paradigm. In line with Asch’s (1946) central traits theory, we hypothesized
that a warm description would lead to a more positive evaluation than a cold
description (preliminary hypothesis). We also hypothesized that evoking a
pleasant odor would counteract the classical warm–cold effect. Thus, describing
a hypothetical person as cold will lead to a positive evaluation if the description
includes the evocation of a pleasant odor (main hypothesis).
Participants were 119 undergraduate students (104 women and 15 men, Mage =
19.8 years, SD = 2.4) at Metz University, France. They participated in a 2 (central
trait: warm vs. cold) × 2 (odor-based information: vanilla vs. no information)
between-subjects experiment, in which they were asked to rate the target as a
measure of social perception. In a pilot study, we tested various odors. Based
on the procedure proposed by Chréa et al. (2009), students (n = 26) inhaled
several odors and then assessed each of them. Several dimensions were measured
(including attraction, familiarity, saliency, and intensity). Vanilla odor was highly
attractive, familiar, salient, and intense, compared with other odors (including
lemon, camphor, coffee, chocolate, and lavender).
We followed Asch’s (1946) procedure (Experiment 1), and presented the task
as following:
I shall read you a number of characteristics that belong to a particular
person, Mr X. Please, listen to them carefully and try to form an impression
of the kind of person described. I will read the list slowly and I will repeat
it once (p. 262).
For half of the participants (warm conditions), Mr X was described as
“intelligent, skillful, industrious, warm, determined, practical, and cautious”.
For the other half (cold conditions), Mr X was described as “intelligent, skillful,
industrious, cold, determined, practical and cautious” (Asch, 1946, p. 262). In
conditions where an odor was evoked, the target was also described as smelling
like vanilla, whereas no information about odor was given in the remaining
conditions. Then each participant rated the target on several dimensions
(charming, generous, sociable, and amusing) using a 5-point Likert scale, ranging
from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. These four adjectives, identified
as specific to high social desirability (Le Barbenchon, Cambon, & Lavigne,
2005), were aggregated into an index (Cronbach’s alpha = .72).
Results and Discussion
Consistent with Asch’s (1946) perspective (preliminary hypothesis), a main
effect of the central trait was obtained, F(1, 115) = 61.17, p < .001, 2 = .34, with
participants in the warm conditions rating the target more positively (M = 3.32,
SD = .64) than participants in the cold conditions (M = 2.34, SD = .73). A main
effect of the odor-based information was also observed, F(1, 115) = 4.25, p < .04,
2 = .03. Participants in the vanilla conditions rated the target as more desirable
(M = 2.96, SD = .71) than participants in the no odor information conditions
(M = 2.70, SD = .91). An interaction effect was observed, F(1, 115) = 3.92, p <
.05, 2 = .03. Post hoc comparisons (least significant difference) revealed that
participants in the cold, vanilla condition rated the target more positively (n = 26,
M = 2.59, SD = .65) than did participants in the cold, no odor-based information
condition (n = 22, M = 2.09, SD = .74), p < .01 (main hypothesis). No significant
difference was observed between the warm, vanilla condition (n = 38, M = 3.31,
SD = .68) and the warm, no odor-based information condition (n = 33, M = 3.32,
SD = .60).
The findings support predictions stemming from central traits theory. Asch
(1946) and the other researchers on social perception (Kelley, 1950; Widmeyer
& Loy, 1988) have demonstrated that participants’ descriptions of the personality
of a hypothetical (and sometimes a real person) can be altered by simply
interchanging adjectives representing central qualities (e.g., warm or cold).
However, they also found that the inclusion of adjectives representing peripheral
qualities (e.g., polite or blunt) did not significantly affect participants’ impressions
of the perceived personality of the person described.
As expected, odor-based information seems to moderate negative impressions
when the target is described as cold. Thus, impression formation is affected not
only by central traits (cold vs. warm), but also by extrinsic information, such as
an odor being evoked, which is not related to personality dimensions. It seems
that the odor-evoked information (vanilla) could have the status of central
information, since the evocation of vanilla associated with personality traits
could counterbalance the negative impact of the central trait cold.
The impact of extrinsic information on social perception has been only
partially examined. Fennis and Pruyn (2007) demonstrated that brand personality
traits could affect perceptions about an individual’s personality. Once again,
Fennis and Pruyn examined visual aspects of appearance in relation to social
perception. The effect unpleasant odors have on impression formation about
others could be considered as a limitation of our study. However, we support that
future researchers have to fit with the complexities of real life. Therefore, future
researchers would have to examine the impact of multisensory cues integrating
tactile-related information, visual-related information, and olfactory-related
In this experiment, we focused on the effect of whether or not a person is
described as smelling like vanilla has on the evaluation of that person. Future
researchers could examine the effect of ambient scent on the warm–cold
paradigm. Otherwise, the effects of odor information on traits could be mediated
by the possible effects that odor information has on the participant’s mood, which
could be subsequently projected on the target person. The effect of mood as a
mediation variable has been considered in a few studies (Baron, 1997; Guéguen
& Petr, 2006), even if evidence of that mediation has not been provided in any
of them. This avenue of research could represent an interesting and innovative
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Résumé 139 étudiants ont évalué la désirabilité et l'utilité sociale de 308 adjectifs de personnalité et de 297 professions. Les évaluations moyennes et les écart types sont donnés pour chaque item et pour chaque type d'évaluation (désirabilité et utilité sociale). Pour chaque item un t de Student a été calculé entre les deux évaluations. Les corrélations entre ces évaluations et trois autres normes de désirabilité (en anglais et en français) varient entre .87 et .96. Mots clés : désirabilité, utilité sociale, adjectifs, professions.
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In a preliminary study, passersby in a large shopping mall were significantly more likely to help a same-sex accomplice (by retrieving a dropped pen or providing change for a dollar) when these helping opportunities took place in the presence of pleasant ambient odors (e.g., baking cookies, roasting coffee) than in the absence of such odors. Participants also reported significantly higher levels of positive affect in the presence of pleasant odors. In a second study, the order in which passersby were exposed to a helping opportunity and rated their current mood was systematically varied. Results similar to those of the first study were obtained; order of task had no effect on either mood or helping, but helping was significantly greater in the presence of pleasant fragrances than in their absence. In addition, there was some evidence that fragrance-induced increments in helping were mediated by increments in positive affect.
Several studies have shown that odors have an effect on human behavior. Consumer's behavior is also affected by odors. An experiment was carried out in a restaurant where lemon and lavender aromas were diffused and compared to a no-aroma control condition. Results showed that lavender—but not lemon aroma—increased the length of stay of customers and the amount of purchasing. The hypothesis that lavender produces a relaxing effect is offered to explain the results.