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“Hand washing removes more than dirt—it also removes the guilt of past misdeeds, weakens the urge to engage in compensatory behavior, and attenuates the impact of disgust on moral judgment,” reported an article in the journal Nature titled “Washing Away Postdecisional Dissonance” by Spike W. S. Lee and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan. (It’s not available online.)

“Pontius Pilate was onto something . . . ”, as the friend who sent me the article noted. But washing your hands doesn’t only reduce guilt. It makes you feel better about decisions you made.

By rather cleverly getting some students to wash their hands before evaluating a decision they’d made, Lee and Scwarz found “the psychological impact of physical cleansing extends beyond the moral domain. Much as washing can cleanse us from traces of past immoral behavior, it can also cleanse us from traces of past decisions, reducing the need to justify them.” Which also applies to Pilate, now that I think of it.

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