Can a pleasant fragrance wafting through the workplace boost performance? According to a new study by scientists at the University of Cincinnati, the answer may be yes. Psychologists William N. Dember and Joel S. Warm tested the effect of aromas by putting volunteers in a sealed room and asking them to press a computer key whenever they saw a certain pattern on the screen. Some of the volunteers breathed in just air; others received the scent of either peppermint or lily of the valley.
The results were striking. The scientists thought the odors might keep the volunteers more alert, preventing a drop in performance over time on the monotonous task. Instead, people who got the fragrant air did better from the start. They pushed the key correctly 85% of the time, compared with 65% for those who breathed unscented air. The study suggests that letting workers smell the roses could raise productivity, though Dember and Warm caution that more research should be done before fragrance is piped in with the Muzak.