What affects trust? Take a minute to list the things that make you trust a person. I’ll do the same, and we’ll meet on the other side.
So here are a few things that I came up to help increase trust between individuals: honesty (very important), faithfulness (beneficial to monogamous relationships!), unselfish acts (selfish, self-centred people don’t promote trust in my book), and presence (people need to show up). It seems the things on my list are related to an individual’s character. This is even after I read a study on how scent affects trust. Yes. Scent.
Was scent on your list? Perhaps lavender?
A study,1 published in an open access journal, tested whether scent, specifically lavender, affected trust.
In the study, participants were paired to play a “Trust Game.” For the game, each participant was given 5 Euros with the option to keep the money or transfer any part of it to their partner. Now, if the money was transferred, the amount was tripled. That’s nice, isn’t it? Well, there’s a hitch: the partner on the receiving end decided if and how to share the new amount. The underlying assumption in this game is that one needs to “trust” the partner to give back more than the third that’s been transferred.
Note the second part – the part about receiving 5 Euros and deciding whether to transfer it back – never happened! Everyone in the pair just decided what to do with the 5 Euros. And that’s where it ended.
This whole scenario played out in a space that was scented with lavender, peppermint, or nothing. The scents weren’t taken out of thin air. Lavender has previously been shown to bias attention towards an inclusive thinking style, which has been shown to promote trust.
The results showed that more money was transferred when the background sent was lavender compared to peppermint or nothing. This suggests that trust, as measured by the Trust Game, can be impacted by something in the air.
The authors1 argue that
the calming scent of lavender temporarily induces a more inclusive cognitive-control state that, in turn, influences the extent to which people trust others.
Remember that this is an opinion that needs direct testing!
Also, note, this is the first study to show scent promotes trust between individuals. Psychology studies are notorious for some small changes flipping the results upside down. For example, the effect of lavender might easily change if the partner was known (vs. a stranger) or perhaps looked a certain way or had a certain personality style (such as annoying).
For me, this study does underline that trust is a state that can be affected by an external, irrelevant cue that has nothing to due with the actual person.
1 Sellaro R., Van Dijk W. W., Paccani C. R., Hommel B., & Colzato L. S. (2015). A question of scent: Lavender aroma promotes interpersonal trust. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.
Lavender by Judith