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The power of freshly baked bread to stimulate altruism

If we want to sell our house, estate agents tell us to fill our home with the smell of freshly baked bread. According to recent research, the power of the smell of baking bread can even lead to increased altruism.

The findings, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, suggest that such smells can lead to a heightened level of concern for the welfare of others.

The research was conducted by the University of Southern Brittany and the field work involved asking volunteers to drop a glove or packet of tissues outside a bakery or a clothes shop. The aim was to see if a stranger would pick it up and return it and whether that behaviour would be different between places with pleasant ambient odours and those without them.


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The experiment, which was viewed by observers 60 feet away, was repeated over 400 times.

The scientists found that the personal item was returned 77% of the time by people outside the bakery compared to 52% of the time outside the clothes shop. They concluded: "our results show that, in general, spontaneous help is offered more in areas where pleasant ambient smells are spread. This experiment confirms the role of ambient food odours on altruism".

The findings were published in The Sweet Smell of … Implicit Helping: Effects of Pleasant Ambient Fragrance on Spontaneous Help in Shopping Malls.

Fundraising outside the bakery

Does this research mean that fundraisers will enjoy better results if they stand outside a branch of Greggs? Will face-to-face fundraisers all start congregating outside the nearest bakers? Will you urge your street collectors to find the strongest smell of baking bread along the high street and grab that spot?

Or, will major gift fundraisers walk into meetings with prospects with a fresh granary loaf in their briefcase?

And what about the opportunities at fundraising dinners to introduce a little extra whiff from the kitchens where the bread rolls are being warmed?

Time to check if the ethics of ambient smells are included in the new Code of Fundraising Practice.

Photo: Teuobk on Flickr.com