Not only do the people in the room affect the outcome of a mediation, but the room itself may, too. How much attention do you pay to the little things in the conflict resolution setting? Let's look at some recent experiments that just might increase that attention.
One factor in the environment that may have an influence is smell. Research indicates that a scent in the room can promote fairness. From "Cleanliness May Foster Morality" (Live Science):
A simple spritz of a fresh-smelling window cleaner made people more fair and generous in a new study.
[Researchers] conducted fairness tests, with subjects completing tasks in a room that was either unscented or one that was sprayed with a common citrus-scented window cleaner.
When in a scented room, subjects were more charitable and fair.
Some more interesting research that may confirm the relationship between morality and cleanliness:
I am not suggesting you mist the room with Windex prior to each session, but that paying close attention to the mediation room is important. Galinsky summarizes the underlying point of the research for mediators in this quote from "Do 'Clean' Smells Encourage Clean Behavior?" (TIME):
"Economists and even psychologists haven't been paying much attention to the fact that small changes in our environment can have dramatic effects on behavior. We underemphasize these subtle environmental cues," he says.
Another environmental variable that can affect how people see and interact with each other is temperature. Recent research has shown that the temperature of a room, or of a beverage being
held, affect social relationships. Warmth promotes feeling closer to others and having a more relational focus. Read more in The social thermometer: Temperature affects how we perceive relationships (Neurophilosophy). Research abstract.
In the other direction, emotional feelings affecting body temperature, research has shown that feeling excluded can make a person feel colder. Click to read "Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold?" [pdf]. This research is still another indication that feelings and temperature are probably related.
That relationship, as well as of the possible influence of scent, are good pieces of information for conflict professionals to keep in mind as they evaluate settings, and even beverages served.
Originally published in The Texas Mediator Fall 2007 Book Review Morton Deutsch, Peter T. Coleman, Eric C. Marcus, editors. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass...By Josefina Rendon