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Scent Of Fairness In The Air? Mediation Running Hot Or Cold? The Importance Of Subtle Environmental Cues

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.

DSC01212 Not only do the people in the room affect the outcome of a mediation, but the room itself may, too. How much attention do you pay to the little things in the conflict resolution setting? Let's look at some recent experiments that just might increase that attention.

One factor in the environment that may have an influence is smell. Research indicates that a scent in the room can promote fairness. From "Cleanliness May Foster Morality" (Live Science):

A simple spritz of a fresh-smelling window cleaner made people more fair and generous in a new study.

[Researchers] conducted fairness tests, with subjects completing tasks in a room that was either unscented or one that was sprayed with a common citrus-scented window cleaner.

When in a scented room, subjects were more charitable and fair.

Morality and cleanliness can go hand-in-hand," said study team member Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Some more interesting research that may confirm the relationship between morality and cleanliness:

[Katie] Liljenquist and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto had previously shown that people who have committed sins feel urged to clean themselves physically. A separate study last year at the University of Plymouth in England found that a vigorous hand wash or shower could cause a person to be less judgmental.

I am not suggesting you mist the room with Windex prior to each session, but that paying close attention to the mediation room is important. Galinsky summarizes the underlying point of the research for mediators in this quote from "Do 'Clean' Smells Encourage Clean Behavior?" (TIME):

"Economists and even psychologists haven't been paying much attention to the fact that small changes in our environment can have dramatic effects on behavior. We underemphasize these subtle environmental cues," he says.

Another environmental variable that can affect how people see and interact with each other is temperature. Recent research has shown that the temperature of a room, or of a beverage being

held, affect social relationships. Warmth promotes feeling closer to others and having a more relational focus. Read more in The social thermometer: Temperature affects how we perceive relationships (Neurophilosophy). Research abstract.

In the other direction, emotional feelings affecting body temperature, research has shown that feeling excluded can make a person feel colder. Click to read "Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold?" [pdf]. This research is still another indication that feelings and temperature are probably related.

That relationship, as well as of the possible influence of scent, are good pieces of information for conflict professionals to keep in mind as they evaluate settings, and even beverages served.



Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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