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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 23-Aug-15

 


Sunday 23-August-15

Clean hands, clean mind

Some people are naturally messy. Others are always spotless. Most of us kind of fall in between, sometimes being messy but generally keeping things as clean as we can without getting overly obsessive about it. Cleanliness is one of those things that we generally subscribe to and stretches into a metaphor about being nice, good and so on. We talk about 'clean living' when we mean living a moral existence (or at least trying to be good).

Zhong et al (2010) decided to try out the effect of this metaphor to see if priming the general thought of 'clean' would also make people more moral in their judgements. They got 58 student into a lab filled with spotless new equipment. Half were asked to wipe their hands with an antiseptic towel to help things stay clean. Afterwards, in an apparently unrelated test, they were all asked to rate the morality of six social issues, in such areas as pornography and littering. Those had cleaned their hands beforehand made far harsher judgments than those who had not. A follow-up study with a wider audience also showed that priming about cleanliness or dirtiness also changed how they made judgements.

The implications are clear: if you want a person to make a moral judgement, prime them with thoughts or actions around cleanliness. If you want them to be less moral, make them feel dirty.

Reference:

Zhong, C., Strejcek, B. and Sivanathan, N. (2010). A clean self can render harsh moral judgment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 5, 859-862.


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