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Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing

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Science  08 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5792, pp. 1451-1452
DOI: 10.1126/science.1130726

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Abstract

Physical cleansing has been a focal element in religious ceremonies for thousands of years. The prevalence of this practice suggests a psychological association between bodily purity and moral purity. In three studies, we explored what we call the “Macbeth effect”—that is, a threat to one's moral purity induces the need to cleanse oneself. This effect revealed itself through an increased mental accessibility of cleansing-related concepts, a greater desire for cleansing products, and a greater likelihood of taking antiseptic wipes. Furthermore, we showed that physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behavior and reduces threats to one's moral self-image. Daily hygiene routines such as washing hands, as simple and benign as they might seem, can deliver a powerful antidote to threatened morality, enabling people to truly wash away their sins.

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