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Out, damn'd decision: Hand washing helps us live with our choices

Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth could never wash away the guilt of murder from her hands, but research has shown that the simple act of hand washing—or even using a wipe—can in fact help people clean their conscience of dirty deeds. A new study, published online May 6 in Science, reveals the power of hand washing to ease people's minds about even mundane decisions.

Often, when people make decisions—no matter how big or small—they tend to justify them, rationalizing often beyond reason that their choice was by far the best. Resolving the sense of cognitive dissonance vastly decreased in subjects who washed their hands after having to make a simple choice.

In an experiment, 40 subjects had to pick and rank 10 of 30 CDs that they would like to own as if they were completing a consumer survey. They were then given the choice of the fifth- and sixth-ranked CDs. Afterward, as part of an unrelated task, subjects took a survey about liquid soap. Half of the participants were given a soap bottle to assess, and the other half were instructed to try the soap out by washing their hands. Last, the participants were asked to rerank the 10 CDs.
 
 

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