If you're having one of those days when you feel a little low, wash your troubles away. Literally.
University of Michigan researchers have determined that just washing your hands with warm water and plenty of soap not only cleans your hands, but also your psyche--making you feel better.
"Cleansing is about the removal of residues," said study leader Spike W.S. Lee.
By washing the hands, taking a shower or even thinking of doing so, "people can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision. The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues."
To arrive at these conclusions, Lee and co-study leader Norbert Schwarz, conducted an extensive literature review of previous studies. Here are some of their findings:
- In one study, people who were asked to judge the moral wrongdoing of others saw them as worse when exposed to an unkempt room or bad odor, compared with sitting in a clean room.
- In another study, participants who were asked to think of a moral wrongdoing of their own felt less guilty after using an antiseptic hand wipe.
- Even imagining yourself either "clean and fresh" or "dirty and stinky" affects your judgments of others' acts, such as masturbation or abortion. The "clean" participants in one study not only judged others more harshly, they judged themselves as more moral than others.
- Cleansing also works for post-decision doubts. In one study, 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 and water 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.
The study findings were published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, which is published by the Association for Psychological Science.
--From the Editors at Netscape