Washing hands makes you more lenient: Researchers

Monday, 1 December 2008, 1:38 | Category : Psychology
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Still can’t get over how that guy you thought was your friend took off with your girlfriend?? Here’s something that might help you move past the grudge: wash your hands, then give the sitch another thought.

What’s one got to do with the other, you ask? Plenty, according to British researchers.

The team – out of University of Plymouth – found that self-cleansing (or at least the pursuit of it) affects moral judgement. Specifically, their research suggests it makes you more lenient when it comes to condemning others’ transgressions. And you’re not alone.

In the study, 22 people who had just washed their hands, and 22 who had not, were asked to watch a three minute clip from the movie Transpotting. The clip featured acts such as stealing money, lying on a job application, cooking and eating a family dog, among other things.

The participants were then asked to deem how morally wrong the acts were, and to place them on a scale from one to nine, with one being acceptable and nine being inexcusably wrong.

While all 44 found the actions “wrong”, the extent to which these actions were deemed wrong varied; participants who had recently washed their hands were less likely to judge the actions as harshly as the group who had not.

And this correlation carried over to another experiment where one group was first shown words such as clean, neat, pure etc., while another was shown neutral words, before being presented with the same moral dilemmas.

The implications of the findings are understandably far-reaching. Consider: According to this theory, jurors in criminal trials who cleanse their hands come back with less severe verdicts. Similarly, voters may overlook a politician’s wrongdoing if they’ve just had a bath.

The take home message (apart from letting go of the grudge)? While we like to think of ourselves as rational, deliberative beings, incidental cues can shape our thought processes.

Now that’s a sobering thought.

2 Comments for “Washing hands makes you more lenient: Researchers”

  1. 1lava

    This is hilarious. You mean to tell me the next time I am angry, all I have to do is wash my hands to feel better?
    Bwahahahaha. Classic.


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