Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing

Department of Organizational Behavior and HR Management, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E6, Canada.
Science (Impact Factor: 33.61). 10/2006; 313(5792):1451-2. DOI: 10.1126/science.1130726
Source: PubMed

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.

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Available from: Katie A Liljenquist, Sep 26, 2015
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    • "Specifically , activating the concept of immorality leads to higher accessibility of cleaning - related words ( Zhong and Liljenquist , 2006 ; Jones and Fitness , 2008 ; Yan et al . , 2011 ) , which points to modal priming . "
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    ABSTRACT: Research on embodiment is rich in impressive demonstrations but somewhat poor in comprehensive explanations. Although some moderators and driving mechanisms have been identified, a comprehensive conceptual account of how bodily states or dynamics influence behavior is still missing. Here, we attempt to integrate current knowledge by describing three basic psychological mechanisms: direct state induction, which influences how humans feel or process information, unmediated by any other cognitive mechanism; modal priming, which changes the accessibility of concepts associated with a bodily state; sensorimotor simulation, which affects the ease with which congruent and incongruent actions are performed. We argue that the joint impact of these mechanisms can account for most existing embodiment effects. Additionally, we summarize empirical tests for distinguishing these mechanisms and suggest a guideline for future research about the mechanisms underlying embodiment effects.
    Frontiers in Psychology 07/2015; 6:940. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00940 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    • "In one study, participants preferred a free gift of an antiseptic wipe over a pencil after they recalled an immoral act they had committed. Wiping their hands reduced their sense of guilt (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). Physical cleansing may also involve pain (e.g., religious fasting): After violating moral rules, participants showed a greater tendency to self-inflict mild electric shocks to redeem themselves, though no restitution followed (Wallington, 1973). "
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    ABSTRACT: Unethical behavior by “ordinary” people poses significant societal and personal challenges. We present a novel framework centered on the role of self-serving justification to build upon and advance the rapidly expanding research on intentional unethical behavior of people who value their morality highly. We propose that self-serving justifications emerging before and after people engage in intentional ethical violations mitigate the threat to the moral self, enabling them to do wrong while feeling moral. Pre-violation justifications lessen the anticipated threat to the moral self by redefining questionable behaviors as excusable. Post-violation justifications alleviate the experienced threat to the moral self through compensations that balance or lessen violations. We highlight the psychological mechanisms that prompt people to do wrong and feel moral, and suggest future research directions regarding the temporal dimension of self-serving justifications of ethical misconduct.
    Current Directions in Psychological Science 04/2015; 24(2):125-130. DOI:10.1177/0963721414553264 · 3.93 Impact Factor
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    • "Previous research has shown that people attempt to alleviate guilt over their own misdeeds by engaging in compensatory acts of prosocial behavior (Carlsmith and Gross 1969; Darlington and Macker 1966; Regan et al. 1972). As discussed in the Introduction, the desire to compensate for immoral actions by means of prosocial behavior is weakened when people can physical cleanse themselves (Zhong and Liljenquist 2006). Integrating this finding with our claim that punishment of another cleanses the self, yields our third hypothesis: "
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    ABSTRACT: Separate lines of research show that individuals: (a) understand immorality metaphorically as physical contamination; (b) project undesirable self-attributes onto others; and (c) view punishment as eliminating a transgressor’s immorality. Integrating these findings, we hypothesized that individuals project guilt over their own immorality—represented as physical contamination—onto another transgressor whose punishment restores their own moral and physical purity. In Study 1, personal immorality salience decreased felt physical cleanliness unless another transgressor was punished. In Study 2, personal immorality salience led participants to see another transgressor as physically dirtier, an effect mediated by guilt. Furthermore, the punishment of the contaminated transgressor restored participants’ personal morality and eliminated restorative moral behavior. In Study 3, punishing a transgressor who served as a projection target for participants’ immorality removed felt physical contamination indirectly through decreased guilt. These studies are the first to show that another’s punishment can ‘‘cleanse’’ the self of ‘‘dirty’’ immorality feelings.
    Motivation and Emotion 03/2015; 39(5). DOI:10.1007/s11031-015-9487-9 · 1.55 Impact Factor
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