A Cleaned Conscience

A Cleaned Conscience November 26, 2008

And Pilate seeing that he prevailed nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, taking water washed his hands before the people, saying: I am innocent of the blood of this just man. Look you to it. – Matthew 27:24

PUBLIC displays of untidiness, such as graffiti, may promote bad behaviour (see article), but when it comes to personal cleanliness the opposite appears to be true. A study just published in Psychological Science by Simone Schnall of the University of Plymouth and her colleagues shows that washing with soap and water makes people view unethical activities as more acceptable and reasonable than they would if they had not washed themselves.

The second experiment exposed 44 volunteers to a three-minute clip from “Trainspotting”, a film that is well known for eliciting feelings of disgust, to make them all feel unclean. The volunteers were then asked to describe how they would rate the same series of acts as in the first experiment. However, after watching the clip and before being exposed to the ethical questions, half of the participants were told that the room in which they were to do the rating was a sterile staff space that needed to be kept clean. They were therefore asked, please, to wash their hands with soap and water when entering.

The researchers report that those who were given the “clean” words or who washed themselves rated the acts they were asked to consider as ethically more acceptable than the control groups did. Among the volunteers who unscrambled the sentences, those exposed to ideas of cleanliness rated eating the family dog at 5.7, on average, on the wrongness scale whereas the control group rated it as 6.6. Their score for using a kitten in sexual play was 6.7; the control group individuals gave it 8.3. Similar results arose from the handwashing experiment.


(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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  • David Nickol

    There is an old saying: “Clean mind, clean body. Take your pick.” If I understand the research findings, it seems to apply here.

  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness. So if you’re aiming for cleanliness, you’re missing the mark.