No effect of the smell of hexanal on trust in human-robot interaction


The level of interpersonal trust among people is partially determined through the sense of smell. Hexanal, a molecule which smell resembles freshly cut grass, can increase trust in people. Here, we ask the question if smell can be leveraged to facilitate human-robot interaction and test whether hexanal also increases the level of trust during collaboration with a social robot. In a preregistered double-blind, placebo-controlled study, we tested if trial-by-trial and general trust during perceptual decision making in collaboration with a social robot is affected by hexanal across two samples (n = 46 and n = 44). It was hypothesized that unmasked hexanal and hexanal masked by eugenol, a molecule with a smell resembling clove, would increase the level of trust in human-robot interaction, compared to eugenol alone or a control condition consisting of only the neutral smelling solvent propylene glycol. Contrasting previous findings in human interaction, no significant effect of unmasked or eugenol-masked hexanal on trust in robots was observed. These findings indicate that the conscious or nonconscious impact of smell on trust might not generalise to interactions with social robots. One explanation could be category- and context-dependency of smell leading to a mismatch between the natural smell of hexanal, a smell also occurring in human sweat, and the mechanical physical or mental representation of the robot.