Sunday, September 10, 2006


Damned Spot

As if you didn't know it already . . . your mother was right: Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Both of them are right next to guilt in the super-ego, some might say.

According to a recent study by Chen-bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University, Clean hands actually do make people feel less guilty. According to the report at Science:

Physical and moral cleanliness have always been closely associated, both in religious practices and in people's minds, as revealed by the words they use -- such as "pure" applied either to body or spirit.

The team investigated the relationship between the two as follows:

First they asked 30 undergraduates to summon up how they felt from performing an ethical act, such as helping a sick friend, while 30 others were asked to recall an unethical deed, like shoplifting. All then did took (sic) a word completion test.

Those who recalled doing something bad were more likely to fill in a word such as W _ _ H with a cleansing-related word ("wash" rather than "wish"). Similarly, when subjects were offered a choice between an antiseptic wipe and a pencil as a gift, two-thirds of those who recalled the unethical deed took the wipe -- twice as many as those who recalled the ethical deed.

It was felt that the results showed a deeply rooted psychological connection between morality and cleanliness. A further study was done, however:

45 participants described an unethical deed from their past. Afterward, 22 were given an antiseptic wipe to clean their hands. All were then asked if they would volunteer for another study to help out a desperate graduate student. Those who felt clean apparently felt less need to expiate for their sins: only 41% agreed to help, compared to 74% who had not wiped their hands.

Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church and others have had it wrong all along. Based on these results, people don't need confession and penance, they need full-body handiwipes.

Excuse me ... after that I need to go wash my hands.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education