Body of Work: Guéguen and the Goad of Small Things

Savoring the colorful research of an under-publicized researcher
compiled by Alice Shirrell Kaswell and Stephen Drew

This issue’s under-publicized scientist is Nicolas Guéguen, who finds significance, or at least fascination, in the goad of small things. He does what might be called voyeuristic microscopy, watching how people react to mundanely noticeable sights and sounds and touching. Many of the experiments involve young female confederates who are shaped or perfumed or who lay a hand upon strangers in particular ways. Generally, the test subjects who respond most vigorously are men.

Based at the University of Bretagne-Sud, France, Professor Guéguen has been pumping out publications since the year 2000. He honors the academic custom of referring to himself, in print, with the royal “we.”

His experiments probe a range of human behavior.

A study called “Women’s Bust Size and Men’s Courtship Solicitation,” 1 describes how Professor Guéguen tested “the effect of a woman’s breast size on approaches made by males. We hypothesized that an increase in breast size would be associated with an increase in approaches by men.” The study ends with an 827-word assertion that “Our hypothesis was confirmed.”

A related experiment produced a study called “Bust Size and Hitchhiking: A Field Study.”2 There Professor Guéguen reports that “1200 male and female French motorists were tested in a hitchhiking situation. A 20-year-old female confederate wore a bra which permitted variation in the size of cup to vary her breast size. She stood by the side of a road frequented by hitchhikers and held out her thumb to catch a ride. Increasing the bra-size of the female hitchhiker was significantly associated with an increase in number of male drivers, but not female drivers, who stopped to offer a ride.”

An earlier study called “The Effect of Touch on Tipping: An Evaluation in a French Bar,”3 aimed to fill a very specific gap in psychologists’ knowledge of human behavior. The study explains: “Although positive effect of touch on restaurant’s tipping has been widely found in the literature, no evaluation was made outside the United States of America and in a bar. An experiment was carried out in a French bar. A waitress briefly touched (or not) the forearm of a patron when asking him/her what he/she want to drink. Results show that touch increases tipping behavior although giving a tip to a waitress in a bar is unusual in France.” Professor Guéguen has pursued related questions, some involving smiles, upon which he reports in additional studies.

“The Effect of Perfume on Prosocial Behavior of Pedestrians”4 is representative of several Guéguen investigations of how people respond to the presence and actions of a heavily perfumed woman. In this one, the fragranced woman walks in front of strangers and “drops a packet of paper handkerchiefs or a glove apparently without noticing.”

In these and other forays, Professor Guéguen probes and ponders the human condition.


1. “Women’s Bust Size and Men’s Courtship Solicitation,” Nicolas Guéguen, Body Image, vol 4, no. 4, December 2007, pp. 386–90. (Thanks to Charles Oppenheim for bringing this to our attention.)

2. “Bust Size and Hitchhiking: A Field Study,” Nicolas Guéguen, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 105, no. 3, part 2, December 2007, pp. 1294–8. (Thanks to James Randerson for bringing this to our attention.):

3. “The Effect of Touch on Tipping: An Evaluation in a French Bar,” Nicolas Guéguen and Celine Jacob, International Journal of Hospitality Management, vol. 24, no. 2, 2005, pp. 295–9.

4. “The Effect of Perfume on Prosocial Behavior of Pedestrians,” Nicolas Guéguen, Psychological Reports, vol. 88, 2001, pp. 1046-8.

“Hitchhikers’ Smiles and Receipt of Help,” N. Guéguen and J. Fischer-Lokou, Psychological Reports, vol. 94, no. 3, June 2004, pp. 756–60. Investigators at the Universite de Bretagne-Sud, Vannes, France found that:

The positive association of smiling on helping behavior is well established in social psychology. Nevertheless, no study was found for the effect of smiling on hitchhiking success. An experiment was carried out in France where hitchhiking is a legal and common practice. Four confederates, 2 young men and 2 young women, selected for their “average attractiveness” hitchhiked, signaled to 800 (503 men and 297 women) motorists driving along the road on a peninsula. In half of the cases, the confederate smiled at the motorist. Analysis showed that, when hitchhiking women were smiling, motorists stopped more frequently but not when hitchhikers were men. Also, in all conditions, motorists who stopped were male.

Professor Guéguen’s fine-grained investigation of men’s response to particular aspects of women’s appearance and behavior also includes “The Effects of Women’s Cosmetics on Men’s Courtship Behavior,” N. Guéguen, North American Journal of Psychology, vol. 10, no. 1, 2008, pp. 221–8.

Professor Guéguen’s several tipping-related studies includes “The Effect of a Joke on Tipping When It Is Delivered at the Same Time as the Bill,” N. Guéguen, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 32, 2002, pp. 1955–63.

Early in his career, Professor Guéguen mounted this multi-disciplinary look at tipping: “Effect on Tipping of Barman Drawing a Sun on the Bottom of Customers’ Checks,” Nicolas Guéguen and Patrick Legoherel, Psychological Reports, vol. 87, no. 1, August 2000, pp. 223-6. The authors explain that they:

Investigated whether a drawing of the sun on a restaurant bill increases the number of tips left by clients. The experiment was carried out in bars and involved 177 clients who had ordered an espresso coffee. Analysis shows that the drawing of the sun led clients to leave a tip more frequently than when this drawing was not present. The size of the tip left was also higher. The hypothesis of the creation of a positive frame of mind by this stimulus is discussed.

Professor Guéguen’s fine-grained investigation of men’s response to particular aspects of women’s appearance and behavior include “Women’s Eye Contact and Men’s Later Interest: Two Field Experiments,” N. Guéguen, J. Fischer-Lokou, L. Lefebvre, and L. Lamy, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 106, 2008, pp. 63–6.

Professor Guéguen also researches the effects of ambient music on how much people drink, He has received considerable attention for this study: “Sound Level of Environmental Music and Drinking Behavior: A Field Experiment with Beer Drinkers,” N. Guéguen, C. Jacob, T. Morineau. H. Le Guellec, and M. Lourel, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 32, no. 10, October 2008, pp. 1795–8.

Professor Guéguen’s “Sound Level of Environmental Music and Drinking Behavior: A Field Experiment with Beer Drinkers “is a follow-up, in some ways, to this earlier study: “Sound Level of Background Music and Alcohol Consumption: An Empirical Evaluation,” N. Guéguen, H. Le Guellec, and C. Jacob, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 99, no. 1, August 2004, pp. 34–8.

Professor Guéguen’s music-and-alcohol studies are by no means his only angle of attack on the general subject of ambient music’s effect on behavior. He was also the driving force behind this study: “Cartoon Music in a Candy Store: A Field Experiment,” H. Le Guellec, N. Guéguen, C. Jacob, and A. Pascual, Psychological Reports, vol. 100, 2007, pp. 1255–8.

(Image captioning via Speechable)


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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This post could use a WAY better title, like:

"Big Boobs and Other Curiosities, The Interaction Experiments of Nicholas Guéguen"

'The Goad of Small Things', erm... ??? -almost did not read this post!
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