Show Details

Cleanliness & Morality

December 24, 2008

Judging something as moral or immoral may come down to whether or not we’ve washed our hands.


Cleaning up moral ambiguity….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A new study suggests that people who have just washed their hands are less likely to judge ethically questionable acts such as lying on a resume as immoral. This according to psychologist Simone Schnall of the University of Plymouth in England. She and her colleagues had people watch an unpleasant toilet scene from a movie and then allowed half of them to wash their hands. Then they were asked to make a moral judgment about a questionable act.

SIMONE SCHNALL (University of Plymouth):
Those participants who had been given a chance to wash their hands after feeling disgusted said the moral transgressions were less bad than those who presumably were still feeling disgusted.

This suggests that our moral judgments are less rational than we might like to think and that we may be hardwired to equate being clean with being moral to avoid illness. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.