The idea that hand washing may help banish feelings of guilt and failure is an interesting thought and has played a part in literature – the most famous fictional example is probably Lady Macbeth’s hygienic attempt to wash off her guilt for the role she played in the murder of King Duncan. But is there any science behind it? A recent study attempted to find out.
The experiment involved an “unfair” anagram test that was impossible to complete, followed by an easier anagram test five minutes later.
The study found that the hand washing group felt more optimistic about the coming test. This result was interpreted as the effect of physical activity of hand washing helping people to “banish” feelings of failure because they were unable to complete the unfair test.
BUT, the researchers found that those who felt most optimistic about the next test actually performed worse, possibly because of complacency.
So yes, it’s interesting but does it mean anything?! Hand washing may make you more confident, but it may also make you less competent.
The main finding is the psychological effect; it can help ease people’s guilt after any immoral behaviour, and could even make people’s judgement of others’ bad behaviour less severe.
It has obvious hygienic advantages but if it makes you feel a bit better then why not, go for it! Just don’t sit any tests afterwards!