Given the high level of unemployment these days, many of us find ourselves going on job interviews. We fuss over our hair and worry about what to wear to these events, hoping that we’ll give the right impression. But perhaps we should also be considering what we smell like.
A recent study from our laboratory conducted with Nicole Hovis explored the effects of food odors on the first impression of a person and was presented at the 2011 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, DC. In the experiment, each of the 61 participants was seated in front of a computer and asked to form an impression of a hypothetical person based on three types of contextual information about that person: A picture of a gender-neutral silhouette depicting the hypothetical person, a list of characteristics (intelligent—skillful—industrious-determined—practical—cautious) belonging to the hypothetical person, and a vial containing a smell associated with the person. There were three different smell conditions (onion, lemon, or no odor), though each person only experienced one of them. After spending as much time as they liked forming their impression of the hypothetical person, the contextual information was removed and the participants then received instructions via computer. Each participant then saw a series of 51 attributes that were pre-selected to fall into four different categories: Cleanliness, pleasantness, masculinity, and femininity. Participants rated each attribute on a 9 point scale as to how likely the hypothetical person was to possess it. After this assessment, participants smelled and rated both the lemon and the onion scent for intensity, pleasantness, femininity, masculinity, and cleanliness.