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Feeling Guilty, Doubtful, Unlucky? Washing May Help Say Researchers

Come clean and you’ll feel better.

The idea of washing away your problems has been popularized in song and culture.  But, now scientists are saying there may well be some real psychological benefits to washing your hands or taking a bath.

University of Michigan researchers say, “people can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision” just by washing or cleaning.

A simple cleansing with soap or water, or even a religious rite like a baptism, can make a difference they say.

Getting A Clean Conscience

A study to prove their point found people being asked to judge the moral right or wrong of other people.  When the people being judged were seen in a room that was unclean or unkempt, they were thought to be less truthful or moral.  In another experiment, subjects were asked to imagine something they had done wrong.  When they were given an antiseptic hand wipe the subjects felt less guilty than when they had nothing to use as a cleansing agent.  They were also seen as less prone to volunteer for a good dead to overcome their feelings of guilt if they were unable to wash or clean themselves in some way.

Wash Away Bad Luck

According to the researchers even thinking about yourself as clean and fresh or dirty and smelly may affect our judgment.  With something to clean themselves with people feel they have actually wiped or washed away their doubts or feelings of guilt.

Gambling reveals the same phenomenon. People who washed started to gamble more and with higher stakes – exhibiting feelings of having washed away their bad luck.

The researchers even go back to Shakespearean times to illustrate their findings.  Is it wrong, they ask, to portray Lady Macbeth as unable to wash the metaphoric blood from her hands?  The researchers suggest that she used the wrong part of her body to try and wash her problems away.  They conducted an experiment were subjects were made to tell a lie by either email or voice mail.  Those who spoke the lie over the phone were asked to use mouthwash or a hand sanitizer as part of a test.  Those subjects rated the mouthwash more highly than a hand sanitizer.  Those who had told the lie via email, on the other hand, rated the hand sanitizer more highly than the mouthwash.  So, Lady Macbeth might have had little luck in overcoming her guilt by washing her hands; but perhaps would have been successful if she’d washed her mouth with soap.

So, next time you want to feel better try a new bar of Irish Spring or Dove, take a dip in the pool or shower.  Get wet … stay clean … stay happy.

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  1. Taking a shower always makes me feel refreshed-thanks

  2. Like Pilot washing his hands of guilt over convicting Jesus.

  3. wash your sins away!

  4. I wish irish spring and dove could really help, because the dirt on the conscience is so hard to remove!

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