The April 2010 issue of Popular Science reports on recent research by Brigham Young University psychologist Dr. Katie Liljenquist, who shows that people “act more civil in an area spritzed with lemon-scented Windex.” While the article proposes that “scent could help businesses promote ethical behavior,” I wonder if, perhaps, this kind of use of scent could also facilitate mindful eating. 

What I am about to suggest is pure clinical conjecture on my part, but I suspect that that the very same mechanisms that turned on the civility might be also conducive to more conscious presence at a dining table. Dr. Liljenquist’s study showed that “subjects in a lemony room were more likely to volunteer with charities and shared more cash with partners in a trust-based exercise.” In short, lemon scent somehow facilitated volunteering and sharing, two behaviors that nicely go along with mindful, conscious presence. Indeed, volunteering is an act of conscious, thoughtful, deliberate  consideration, a moment of mindful analysis of others’ possible needs. Sharing is a behavior of non-desperation, a behavior accompanied by a sense of contentedness, a kind of social behavior in which the giver probably feels (on some level) that he/she has enough on his/her own.

I am, of course, not familiar with the specific rationale behind Dr. Liljenquist’s study (does lemon scent facilitate oxytocin release?), but I encourage you to conduct a simple personal experiment. Next time you sit down to eat, cut a lemon in half, take a noseful before you eat and see if doing so makes a difference in terms of how mindful you are during the meal. Or, perhaps, wipe the dining table with lemon-scented surface-cleaner before you eat. Or you could try using a sprig of fresh thyme as an incense. If you detect an increase in the “civility” of your eating, come back and share your experience. If you find no difference, come back and tell me that my hypothesis is a lemon. I am game: it’s not like we got a dissertation to defend!

Additional Resources

Noseful, not Mouthful