Short- and Long-Term Effects of Nonconsciously Processed Ambient Scents in a Servicescape

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Anna Girard of Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Marcel Lichters of Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Marko Sarstedt of
Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, and Dipayan Biswas of the University of South Florida. They recently published an article in Journal of Service Research entitled “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Nonconsciously Processed Ambient Scents in a Servicescape: Findings From Two Field Experiments,” which is currently free to read. Below, they reflect on this research:]

Have you ever walked past, or entered, a Victoria’s Secret or an Abercrombie & Fitch store? If so, you might have noticed a distinctive ambient scent. One can speculate that possible goals for having ambient scents might be to create a pleasant atmosphere, improve their customers’ service experience, or simply mask bad smells in their retail stores. Importantly, Victoria’s Secret or Abercrombie & Fitch are not alone in its efforts to leverage ambient scents. With an annual growth rate of 10% and a volume of over USD 200 million in 2017, the market for ambient scents is growing rapidly.

It is therefore not surprising that ambient scents have also received considerable attention in academic research. Prior research in this domain has revealed that pleasant ambient scents have a positive influence on consumers’ perceptions, of for example, the physical servicescape and on their brand evaluations. We extend this research stream and examine whether the positive effects also hold when consumers are repeatedly exposed to ambient scents without being aware of it. And do the positive effects prevail in a service environment, characterized by many different olfactory influences (e.g., malodors) – as it is often the case in real-world service settings? How do consumers react to the discontinuation of a scent campaign?

We quickly realized that answering these research questions is very challenging in a laboratory setting, where consumers (typically students) are exposed to an ambient scent under highly controlled conditions – as commonly done in prior scent research. Evaluating the long-term effects in an olfactory-rich environment requires collaborating with an industry partner who would grant us access to its servicescape over several weeks, ideally months. Finding such a partner was very challenging, but the study’s first author, Anna Girard, managed to convince a regional subsidiary of Germany’s major railway company to support the project as well as to involve a professional fragrance manufacturer who designed two different scents that fit its servicescape. Our first task was to identify the most appropriate scent and the optimal level of intensity, which we did by running a series of pretests. We found that even in the highest intensity levels, most customers did not notice the scent – that is, they processed the scent nonconsciously.

Next, we exposed the customers to the ambient scent diffused via the train’s air conditioning system over a period of four months. Our results not only confirm ambient scent’s positive short-term effect, but show that the use of a nonconsciously processed long-term ambient scent has an enduring, positive impact on consumers’ evaluations of service quality, service experience, and service value. Furthermore, our results indicate that ambient scents’ positive effect on service evaluations persists for at least two weeks after the ambient scent has been withdrawn.

Our research produced some further striking findings, which we couldn’t report in the published paper. Most notably, we also queried consumers’ satisfaction with the service provider and brand attitude and found no notable improvements in these constructs over time. We also ran a series of qualitative interviews with several of the participants. These interviews confirmed that most participants did not notice any special scent and that they were generally in favor of introducing a pleasant ambient scent into the train compartments.

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Does Wealth Matter for Responsible Investment?

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Trond Døskeland and Lars Jacob Tynes Pedersen of the NHH Norwegian School of Economics. They recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Does Wealth Matter for Responsible Investment? Experimental Evidence on the Weighing of Financial and Moral Arguments,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivations and challenges of this research:]


Responsible investment is increasingly prevalent, and both financial and moral concerns can drive such investment. In this article, we investigate how responsible investors of different wealth weigh financial and moral arguments. Prior research on different factors that may co-determine responsible investment behavior yield competing predictions about the influence of personal wealth on investment. We conduct a large-scale natural field experiment on responsible investment, wherein we treat investors with financial, moral and no arguments, respectively. We find that there is a statistically and economically significant difference in responsiveness to financial and moral arguments between investors of different wealth. Specifically, financial arguments are more effective than are moral arguments for high wealth investors but not for low wealth investors, and the effect is particularly high for the wealthiest investors. The findings hold for several different measures of wealth. Our findings contribute to the understanding of the moderating effect of wealth on responsible investment choice. Furthermore, these insights may enable more fine-tuned strategies to stimulate responsible investment among different individual investor segments.

What motivated you to pursue this research?

We are two colleagues – one finance scholar and one business ethics scholar – who suddenly found ourselves working together at the same department. At the time, responsible investment was taking off in Norway, both as a consequence of the early efforts of the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth fund and their pioneering responsible investment efforts, and in the market for private individual investors. We realized that our complementing research interests and knowledge made it possible for us to do interesting work on this emerging topic together.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

It is challenging to conduct experimental research in close collaboration with companies, because it requires an alignment of the objectives of the research team and the managers of the company. Our field experiment on responsible investment was carried out in the Norwegian bank Skandiabanken. We were fortunate that the managers of the company really valued doing empirical research practice, and we succeeded in designing a project that had research value from a theoretical point of view and value for the company in practical terms. However, typically the time horizons of researchers and business managers are different, and we have different “currencies” – they want actionable insights that can inform business decisions, while our goal is scientific publication. However, we believe that we managed to achieve both objectives in this study.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

We run large-scale natural field experiments to understand the decisions of individuals and firms, and we believe that this methodology is very valuable (and still underexploited) to study questions relevant to business and society. We were happy to see that the journal Business & Society called for more experimental work in a recent piece by the journal’s editors, and we hope to see many more field experiments in this field.

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Neelima Paranjpey on Problem-Solving and Appreciative Inquiry

[We’re pleased to welcome Neelima Paranjpey of Benedictine University. Dr. Paranjpey recently collaborated with Gervase R. Bushe of Simon Fraser University on their paper “Comparing the Generativity of Problem-Solving and Appreciative Inquiry: A Field Experiment” from the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.]

When I was pursuing my PhD in Organization Development, I was very inquisitive about the Appreciative Inquiry process. For years, OD has JABS_72ppiRGB_powerpointfocused on a problem seeking approach and the positive approach to organization change made me curious about its application, whether it works, why it works, how we can improve its theory and application. When I read more I found that Appreciative Inquiry is more than just positive and that it changes organization’s mindset and increases employees capability for renewed social action.

I was working in a transit organization which was undergoing a significant change. The leaders had a desire to initiate an employee recognition program to increase morale in the organization. I used the employee recognition initiative as a basis to conduct my field experiment in appreciative inquiry. I was interested in understanding whether appreciative inquiry was more generative than problem solving. It was fascinating to lead the groups through the process. Participants were engaged in all the groups as this was the first time such an initiative was implemented in the organization. However, the ideas emerging from the appreciative inquiry sessions were much more interesting and applicable. This was apparent from not only the quantitative results, but even the qualitative open-ended questions asked during the focus groups corroborated the findings. The research has several implications to both academicians and practitioners. This is first time that generativity has been conceptualized and measured in appreciative inquiry. Also, given that a generative approach to appreciative inquiry results in compelling and practical ideas in a limited time frame and creates a more favorable mindset towards changes makes it an important study for organization leaders who are attempting to get real employee engagement in any change initiative.

You can read “Comparing the Generativity of Problem-Solving and Appreciative Inquiry: A Field Experiment” from the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science for free by clicking here. Don’t forget to sign up for e-alerts and get all the latest news and research from the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science sent directly to your inbox!

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact Dr. Paranjpey at neelimaparanjpey<at>gmail<dot>com!

gervaseGervase Bushe is Professor of Leadership and Organization Development in the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. He has 30 years of experience in a wide range of organizational change and development projects and is internationally known for his expertise in appreciative inquiry, a method for transforming organizations by focusing on what works.

27fd91fNeelima Paranjpey, PhD is an experienced Talent Management and OD professional who specializes in providing positive change solutions to improve and grow organizations. She currently works with Vaya Group, Chicago as an Assessment & Development Consultant. She earned her PhD in Organization Development from Benedictine University and MS in I/O Psychology from Illinois Institute of Technology.

Does Privacy Make Us Productive?

Modern-day organizations increasingly are seeking to create an “open” work environment—one that makes workers more observable—theorizing that transparency boosts performance. But a new study in Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ) finds this trend may be counterproductive.

Ethan S. Bernstein of Harvard University published “The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control” on June 21, 2012 in ASQ.  Recognizing the prevalence of the trend in factories, the author provides field-based evidence that transparency is not “such a panacea” and makes a strong case for preserving worker privacy in the interest of productivity:

We typically assume that the more we can see, the more we can understand about an organization. This research suggests a counteracting force: the more that can be seen, the more individuals may respond strategically with hiding behavior and encryption to nullify the understanding of that which is seen.

Read the full article in ASQ by clicking here. To learn more about Administrative Science Quarterly, please follow this link.

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