Front page news (Ontario Metro)
Guilt washes away: U of T study
Experiments suggest a scrub eases conscience
If you’re trying to cleanse a guilty conscience, soap and water can do the trick. According to a University of Toronto study published today in the journal Science, washing your hands or showering after impure thoughts or deeds can literally scrub your mind of guilty pangs on a subconscious level.
“We showed that physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behaviour and reduces threats to one’s moral self image,” says the study, co-authored by Chen-Bo Zhong, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the U of T’s Rotman School of Management.
“Daily hygiene routines such as washing hands, as simple and benign as they may seem, can deliver a powerful antidote to threatened morality,” Zhong writes.
He labelled the phenomenon the “Macbeth Effect”, after Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, who famously scrubbed away at that “****ed spot” on her hands after the murder of a king.
Zhong and his team devised a series of four experiments that involved about 165 undergraduate students at Chicago’s Northwestern University.