Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

You can wash away your troubles, with soap

Date:
October 6, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
"Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain," goes the song. Is there such a thing as soap and water for the psyche? Yes: Metaphor is that powerful, say authors of a new review.

"Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain," goes the song. Is there such a thing as soap and water for the psyche? Yes: Metaphor is that powerful, say Spike W.S. Lee and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan in a literature review appearing in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

Related Articles


Religious rites like baptism make psychological sense, the article suggests. Says Lee: "Cleansing is about the removal of residues." By washing the hands, taking a shower, or even thinking of doing so, "people can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision. The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues."

One study the authors discuss found that people asked to judge the moral wrongdoing of others saw them as worse when exposed to an unkempt room or bad odor than when sitting in a clean room. In another study, participants asked to think of a moral wrongdoing of their own felt less guilty after using an antiseptic hand wipe; they were also less likely to volunteer for a good deed to assuage that guilt. Even imagining yourself either "clean and fresh" or "dirty and stinky" affects your judgments of others' acts, such as masturbation or abortion. The "clean" participants in one study not only judged others more harshly, they judged themselves as more moral than others.

Cleansing works for other mental discomforts, too, such as post-decision doubt. To resolve this doubt, people who opted for one of two similar jams felt better about their choice after making the decision, a well-known tendency called choice justification. But if people were given a hand wipe to use, they no longer justified their choice: They had wiped off their doubt. Using soap showed similar results after a bad luck streak in gambling: After washing, participants started to bet higher stakes, suggesting they had "washed away" their bad luck.

But we can't conclude that people who bathe a lot are happier. "Cleansing removes the residual influence of earlier experience," says Lee. If that experience was positive, it would go down the drain too. In fact, washing one's hands after reminiscing about a positive event limits the warm glow of happy memories, leaving people less satisfied.

So was Shakespeare, so monumentally astute about human emotion, wrong to portray Lady Macbeth as unable to wash the metaphoric blood from her hands? The authors' research suggests she might have had the wrong body part in the soapy water. In one experiment, participants were induced to tell a malicious lie either by email or voice mail. Afterwards, those who had lied "by mouth" evaluated a mouthwash more highly than a hand sanitizer, while those who transgressed "by hand" showed the opposite preference. "Lady Macbeth is an interesting example. Her unethical behavior is with her mouth" -- she pushed her husband to commit murder -- "but she's trying to get the imaginary blood stains off her hands," says Lee. "I won't push it too far, but it fits nicely with research."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. W. S. Lee, N. Schwarz. Wiping the Slate Clean: Psychological Consequences of Physical Cleansing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011; 20 (5): 307 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411422694

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "You can wash away your troubles, with soap." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005180516.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, October 6). You can wash away your troubles, with soap. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005180516.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "You can wash away your troubles, with soap." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005180516.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

AP (Jan. 30, 2015) The NFL announced this week that the number of game concussions dropped by a quarter over last season. Still, the dangers of the sport still weigh on players, and parents&apos; minds. (Jan. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Researchers for the first time identified human&apos;s innate preference for associating low and high numbers with the left and right respectively in another species. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) You can elevate your mood by having a meal in a glass. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) offers the best &apos;feel good&apos; smoothies and shakes chock full of depression-relieving ingredients...including apples, berries, lemons, cucumbers, papaya, kiwi, spinach, kale, whey protein, matcha, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Newsy (Jan. 30, 2015) According to a poll out of the U.K., eldest siblings feel more responsible and successful than their younger siblings. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins