Washing Away Your Troubles – Literally

Every morning I browse my psychology feed and see if there is any interesting news to share with you guys. Today I discovered an interesting study about how washing your hands can actually minimize feelings of guilt and shame.

The study was published in the journal Current Directions of Psychological Science.

When participants were asked to think of a moral wrong-doing of their own, they felt less guilty after using an antiseptic hand wipe. They were also less likely to volunteer to do a good act to make up for their wrong-doing. This suggests that cleaning our hands may actually rid ourselves of some of the blame we feel after doing something wrong.

Even when participants were asked only to imagine themselves as “clean and fresh,” they tended to judge themselves as more moral than others.

This literal “mental cleansing” has been found to alleviate other mental discomfort as well:

    “Cleansing works for other mental discomforts, such as post-decision doubt. To resolve this doubt, people who opted for one of two similar jams felt better about their choice after making the decision, a well-known tendency called choice justification. But if people were given a hand wipe to use, they no longer justified their choice: They had wiped off their doubt. Using soap showed similar results after a bad luck streak in gambling: After washing, participants started to bet higher stakes, suggesting they had ‘washed away’ their bad luck.”

It may sound a little ridiculous, but our minds can work in really mysterious ways sometimes. These examples of “mental cleansing” eerily parallel the common notion of baptism being able to wash away “original sin.” So perhaps this metaphor of “washing away” sins, guilt, and bad luck is somehow wired into our collective unconscious? Just a thought…I’m not sure what practical value this study has, but it’s something I found too fascinating not to share.

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