London - It’s comforting, homely and – to almost all of us – undeniably delicious.
But the smell of freshly baked bread may have positive effects far beyond the obvious ones.
Researchers believe it may also make us kinder to strangers.
They found that shoppers were more likely to alert a passer-by that they had dropped a belonging if, at the time, they were also passing near a bakery giving off the mouth-watering aroma.
Their findings, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, suggest certain smells trigger a positive mood that leads to a greater degree of altruism, or unconditional concern for the welfare of others.
Numerous studies have already shown how pleasant smells can make us feel happier. But the psychologists behind the latest experiment wanted to see whether this translates into something more tangible, such as a more considerate attitude towards strangers.
The experts, at the University of Southern Brittany in France, recruited eight young men and women volunteers and told them to stand outside either a bakery or a clothes boutique.
The volunteers pretended to be looking for something in their bags as they stepped in front of a passing shopper.
As they walked a few feet in front of the shopper, the participants dropped a glove, handkerchief or packet of tissues.
Two observers stood about 60ft away. The experiments – which were repeated up to 400 times – found that when the volunteers dropped the items outside the bakery, 77 percent of passers-by stopped and helped recover the lost items and hand them back to their owner.
Outside the clothes shop only 52 percent of strangers helped.
Reporting on their findings, the researchers suggested other smells widely regarded as pleasant would trigger similarly benevolent behaviour.
“Our results show that, in general, spontaneous help is offered more in areas where pleasant ambient smells are spread,” they said.
“This experiment confirms the role of ambient food odours on altruism.” - Daily Mail