The idea that washing one’s hands helps to ease concerns about moral tribulations is fairly old, and has been investigated by researchers in the past. Yet a new study performed at the University of Michigan has investigated the ability of hand washing to address issues of doubt, finding that the activity can counteract classic reactions to the acquisition or loss of an item. The work was carried out with a group of participating university students and attempted to find whether the act of hand washing could predict how the students would react to doubts created about specific products.
In the first of two experiments, students were asked to look through a collection of thirty CD covers, and were assigned the task of ranking them in order of their preference. The students were then offered a choice between their fifth and sixth ranked CDs as a gift. Following this choice, the students were asked to examine a soap product and complete a survey. Some of the students chose simply to inspect the soap, while others used it to wash their hands. After this task, the students were involved in an unrelated activity, and were then asked to rank the CDs once again. The researchers found that those students who had washed their hands during the soap survey task tended to show little magnification of their original choice, placing the chosen CD and the rejected CD at about the same rankings, while those who had merely inspected the product exhibited a classic behavior involving the amplification of the chosen CD to a higher ranking, and a demotion of the rejected CD to a lower ranking.
The second experiment followed similar lines but was conducted with different fruit jams as chosen objects and antiseptic wipes as hand cleaning agents. Similar results were found in this second trial. The researchers have concluded that in addition to lessening the emotional and mental impact of moral dilemmas, hand washing may also allow people to escape typical feelings of doubt, lowering the need to justify personal choices that many people feel.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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