Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing

Science. 2006 Sep 8;313(5792):1451-2. doi: 10.1126/science.1130726.

Abstract

Physical cleansing has been a focal element in religious ceremonies for thousands of years. The prevalence of this practice suggests a psychological association between bodily purity and moral purity. In three studies, we explored what we call the "Macbeth effect"-that is, a threat to one's moral purity induces the need to cleanse oneself. This effect revealed itself through an increased mental accessibility of cleansing-related concepts, a greater desire for cleansing products, and a greater likelihood of taking antiseptic wipes. Furthermore, we showed that physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behavior and reduces threats to one's moral self-image. Daily hygiene routines such as washing hands, as simple and benign as they might seem, can deliver a powerful antidote to threatened morality, enabling people to truly wash away their sins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Ethics
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Humans
  • Hygiene*
  • Morals*
  • Motivation
  • Self Concept*