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


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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    • "The reasoning behind the directional hypothesis regarding the prosociality findings is even clearer. Past research (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006) showed that cleaning oneself led to reduced prosocial behavior. As such, using the reverse directional reasoning, one would predict that on days in which individuals felt cleaner they would perform less prosocial behaviors, because they would have a reduced need to compensate. "

    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Social Psychological and Personality Science
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    • "Zhong and Liljenquist (2006) and Reuven et al. (2014), we computed an index of moral emotions as an average of the ratings of disgust, regret, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and anger. Subsequently, we conducted an independent samples Mann–Whitney U test on the differences between the questionnaire scores (see Figure 1(c)). "
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    ABSTRACT: The effect of threatened morality on negative emotions and on altruistic behaviour has been shown to diminish following physical cleansing (hand-washing). We hypothesised that threatened morality will broadly impair the executive control system, and that physical cleansing will moderate this detrimental effect. Thirty-seven participants were asked to write about an immoral deed they had committed, whereupon half of them were allowed to wipe their hands. Three executive control tasks-Stroop, stop-signal, and object interference-were then administered to all participants. Participants who had not wiped their hands, but not those who did, demonstrated impaired performance, compared to hand-washing controls, in all three tasks. We conclude that threatened morality has a detrimental effect on executive control, specifically on conflict monitoring and response inhibition, and that physical cleansing "frees" this system, counteracting the detrimental effects of morality threats. We discuss possible implications for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is characterised by deficient executive control and in which both threatened morality and physical cleansing are central concerns.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015 · Cognition and Emotion
    • "Sin embargo, los datos apuntan a que la evocación, tal como se realizó en dicho estudio, no fue suficiente para activar un estado de orgullo sustancialmente diferente de la línea base. Este tipo de procedimientos (visualización emocional, tareas de visualización) han sido exitosos en diversos estudios, por ejemplo, en estudios sobre la activación autonómica de distintas emociones (Larsen, Berntson, Poehlmann, Ito, & Caccioppo, 2008) o sobre los efectos de emociones autoconscientes como la culpa (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). Sin embargo, como se ha señalado en el apartado anterior, quizás no lo sean para inducir la experiencia de una emoción compleja como el orgullo en niños de nueve a 11 años. "
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    ABSTRACT: Moral pride, namely the pride generated by morally positive behaviour, can foster prosocial behaviour. To demonstrate this, two quasi-experimental studies were conducted with nine- to 11-year-old children. Study 1 analysed the effect of the pride felt after engaging in prosocial behaviour, in four classrooms from two different schools (N = 94). Study 2 analysed the effect of the pride generated by the evocation of a past example of one’s own prosocial behaviour, in four classrooms from another school (N = 77). The hypothesis was supported in Study 1 but not in Study 2. Interesting correlations were found between dispositional moral pride (measured using a scale designed ad hoc) and other relevant variables in the moral field: intention to engage in prosocial behaviour, habitual prosocial behaviour and dispositional empathy. In general, these studies attest to the importance of moral pride, both dispositional and that felt in a specific situation, in moral life.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Infancia y Aprendizaje
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