6 Weird Things That Influence Bad Behavior More Than Laws

#3. The Smell of Citrus

The same guy who brought you the Lady Macbeth effect decided to see whether there were still more ways that cleanliness makes you either totally awesome or a horrible, horrible person. It turns out that regardless of your own level of personal hygiene, even the cleanliness of the room you are in can affect how you act.

For example, if your room looks like this, you will be acting celibate.

Most of us associate the smell of citrus fruits with cleanliness, because the household cleaning product industry decided that was what every damn thing it sells us should smell like. So now when you smell a hint of lemon, you don't think "delightful summer beverage" or "scurvy-fightin' time!" but "Did I remember to tip the maid?"

So powerful is this association between citrus and cleanliness that you will behave better because of it. That's right -- unlike the last study, which said being more physically clean makes you an ass, a different study shows that when you smell something clean, you become a better person.

If only they'd had these in Nazi Germany.

In this study, participants were brought into one of two rooms. Both rooms looked the same and had the same level of cleanliness; the only difference was that one had been sprayed with a very light citrus scent. The men and women were then told they had to split a pot of money with someone else and that the other person did not know the value of the original amount in the pot. People in the scented room were far more generous when giving this anonymous partner money than those in the unscented room. In some cases, the citrus scent actually doubled the amount of money shared.

Later, they were asked if they had noticed the smell or noticed that the room was clean. Overwhelmingly they did not, meaning the kindness and generosity bestowed on us through these "clean" scents works even on an unconscious level.

#2. The Presence of Large Trees

The U.S. Forestry Service did a huge crime study (covering more than 430 cases) and found something odd, yet strikingly consistent:

People don't know we still have a Forestry Service.

Big trees equal less crime.

That is, neighborhoods with large trees tend to have much lower crime rates than those with smaller trees or just bushes.

You might think that it's just because big, fancy trees are more common around big, fancy homes, so it's more correlation than causation (that is, the type of neighborhood that would have low crime anyway would also have nicer trees). But the trend holds true even if you account for that -- low crime/high income neighborhoods with smaller trees have higher crime than their peers.

Nothing like big trees to deter street crime.

Researchers can only speculate -- one commented that maybe the burglars figure that a neighborhood that can keep a tree from dying for 50 years must have its shit together (and thus must have an organized neighborhood watch program). Though that seems like a lot of deductive reasoning for a dude looking to steal a plasma TV for crack money.

Another theory is that smaller trees or low bushes skew the crime rates upward for everyone else, because they give criminals something to hide behind. Still another is that tall trees drop leaves, and that makes for loud, crunching footsteps when you're trying to sneak in at night (though again, you'd think they could just walk around the leaves or save up all of their crimes for spring).

Or maybe it goes back to the "honesty when you think you're being watched" thing, and they just think the trees are keeping an eye on them, like in the second Lord of the Rings movie. Or that they're full of cookie-making elves. Or they think Batman is hiding up there. It's hard to say, because criminals are really hard to get survey results from.

#1. Signs of Other People Misbehaving

It seems humans just need any little excuse to be bad. All we need is for other people to break the ice of immorality, and we're ready to jump in with them.

For example, a parking lot with parking carts strewn willy-nilly is 28 percent more likely to get littered on than one that is clean. For some reason, once we see that someone else has misbehaved, even if we don't witness it, it gives our brains the go-ahead to be bad ourselves. It doesn't even have to be something directly related; seeing a broken window in a house might make you more likely to litter.

In one part of an exhaustive six-part study on this phenomenon, researchers left an envelope that obviously contained a 5-euro note in an open mailbox. Five euros isn't a lot of money, but most people would still say that the thought of stealing said money would never cross their minds. Well, a bunch of you would be wrong, and all it would take to change your I'm-totally-not-gonna-steal-from-random-strangers minds is a trashy-looking mailbox.

Literally anything you do to these people is justified.

While a "mere" 13 percent of people stole the money when the mailbox looked nice and taken care of, over a quarter of the random people who walked by stole the money if the mailbox was covered in graffiti.

This isn't new; the idea has been around for a while under the name the "broken window theory," which states that when we see broken windows around, we just assume it's a Thunderdome free-for-all for committing crimes.

Seriously: What the hell is wrong with us?

Maybe, as a species, we could agree to cut down on the meth?

Follow Kathy on Twitter, befriend her on Facebook or read the rest of her Cracked articles here.

Want to know what makes you a smart person? Our book. Buy it, dammit.

And see what else science has to say about how we act in 5 Douchebag Behaviors Explained by Science and 6 Obnoxious Old People Habits (Explained by Science).

And stop by Linkstorm to see which Cracked columnist has been stealing everyone's lunches.

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