The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0780  Tuesday, 12 September 2006

From: 		Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Monday, 11 Sep 2006 17:21:17 -0700
Subject: 	"The Macbeth Effect"

Discoveries: Hand-washing may help cleanse conscience as well

Boston.com, Sept. 11, 2006 [Boston Globe, from Science magazine, Sept. 6]

By washing their hands, people might absolve themselves of their 
misdeeds -- if only in their minds. This is the finding of researchers 
from the University of Toronto and Northwestern University who explored 
what they call the "Macbeth effect," a threat to one's moral purity that 
incites the urge to cleanse oneself. In three studies, participants who 
thought about unethical acts were more likely to behave in ways that 
indicated they felt unclean. In one study, subjects recalling an 
unethical deed from their past were more likely than subjects recalling 
an ethical one to convert word fragments, such as W_ _ H and S _ _ P, 
into cleansing-related words (wash and soap). In another study, 
participants remembering an unethical act were more likely to request an 
antiseptic wipe over a pencil as a free gift. A sense of uncleanliness 
did not necessarily translate to more virtuous behavior, however: In a 
fourth experiment, subjects who cleansed their hands after describing an 
unethical deed were less likely to help a graduate student looking for 
research volunteers than subjects who did not clean their hands.

Moral impurity does seem to be mentally linked to physical impurity, and 
the act of washing one's hands seemed to "wash away moral feelings," 
said Chen-Bo Zhong, coauthor of the studies and a behavioral scientist 
at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

As the authors acknowledge, there are "limits to the absolution afforded 
by a bar of soap." Indeed, 41 percent of the subjects who cleansed their 
hands did volunteer to help the graduate student. It is also unknown how 
subjects would have responded were they given the chance to help someone 
they had acted unethically toward.

Zhong and coauthor Katie Liljenquist are investigating the link between 
ethical behavior and cleanliness of one's surroundings, building on 
previous studies of environmental appearance and personal behavior (such 
as research into the "Broken Windows" theory of crime fighting).

Science, Sept. 8.

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