Have a Hard Time Making Decisions? Try Washing Your Hands

Research has revealed that washing your hands can have a positive effect on your mental well-being. This simple act can help reduce anxiety when you’re faced with a decision and alleviate upset following unethical behavior. Psychologists call this the “clean slate effect,” where washing can actually clear your conscience after distress.

HOW CAN HAND WASHING HELP WITH DECISION-MAKING?

Many of us experience what psychologists call cognitive dissonance when we make a decision. This is when you can’t easily accept the choice you made. You might wonder if the other option was actually better and keep questioning your decision.

To alleviate this anxiety, you subconsciously try to convince yourself that what you chose was the best option, and the others weren’t as good. For example, the other products were bad quality, the other person wasn’t as attractive or the other job was at a lousy company.

Humans may have developed this tendency to prevent us from constantly second-guessing our decisions, but these assumptions are often not true and may lead to further stress. So, how can you stop this vicious cycle? Wash your hands.

A University of Michigan study found that washing your hands can actually reduce cognitive dissonance. Participants were asked to rank the top 10 CDs they’d like to own from a list of 30 CDs, as part of an alleged consumer survey. Then they were offered a choice between keeping either their fifth- or sixth-ranked disc. Later, they were asked to evaluate a liquid hand soap, half by looking at the bottle and half by washing their hands with it. Finally, they ranked their top 10 CDs again.

But this time, those who hadn’t washed their hands ranked their chosen CD about two places higher than the one they didn’t pick. This was cognitive dissonance skewing their opinions. Whereas, those who had washed their hands ranked the CDs about the same as before. It seems any inner anxiety about their choice had been erased.

The study went on to ask another set of participants to choose between two jars of jam. Next, they evaluated antiseptic wipes by either looking at them or using them. Finally, they rated how good they thought the jams would taste. Those who had wiped their hands expected equal tastiness. Whereas, those who had only looked at the wipes expected far more deliciousness from their chosen jar of jam.

THE “CLEAN SLATE EFFECT”

Previous studies have shown that washing can help relieve anxiety about poor behavior as well. In many cultures, there’s a psychological link between physical cleanliness and moral purity.

Physical cleansing, such as bathing or hand washing, is central to many religious rituals. Language also reveals this connection. In English, words such as “clean” and “pure” describe both physical and moral states.

This connection extends to our daily actions. Research has found that even thinking about an unethical act or behavior will make you more inclined to wash yourself.

And interestingly, physically washing actually makes you feel better. One study set out to prove this by looking at our natural desire to make amends when we feel we’ve done something wrong. We often do this as a way to clear our conscience and relieve any guilt about the misdeed.

One study asked participants to describe an unethical deed from their past. This was followed by either cleansing their hands with an antiseptic wipe or not. Afterwards, participants were asked whether or not they would volunteer for another study without pay. Those who had wiped their hands were 50 percent less likely to volunteer.

Researchers suggest this is because the washing removed any feelings of guilt or remorse about the unethical behavior, so the participants felt no need to take corrective action. Whereas, those who had not wiped their hands were more likely to volunteer because they still carried the guilt and desire to make amends.

The study concluded that you may be able to in fact wash away your sins, or at least the emotional upset following them.

HOW TO USE HAND WASHING TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Clearly, you should never knowingly engage in unethical behavior. And any decisions in your life should be made with care and attention. But, even when you’ve done your best, stuff still happens.

Maybe you accidentally insulted a loved one, or you realized you made a bad choice after the fact. Once you’ve apologized or done what you can to rectify the situation, the healthiest option is often to let go of any residual emotional upset and move on.

Holding on to unresolved emotions can easily increase your stress load. And the health risks associated with stress are well-documented. So, you may want to add some personal care to help with stress reduction and emotional healing. Have a nice, long bath, take a spa day or even go for a swim.

And remember to wash your hands regularly. Not only will it help prevent disease, it will also benefit your mental health.

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117 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thank you for posting

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Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago

Thanks.

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Jerome S
Jerome S6 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S6 months ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim V
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Just Human
Just Human7 months ago

Should I wash my hands or shouldn't I? I can't decide!

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Stephanie s
Stephanie Y7 months ago

Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie Y7 months ago

Thank you

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KimJ ManyIssues
KimJ ManyIssues7 months ago

tfs

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