Washing one's hands could help shift goal pursuit, new study finds

A new study from two researchers at the University of Toronto has found that hand wipes may do more than clean dirt off people’s hands.Over the course of four experiments, researchers found that the act of cleaning one’s hands led participants to shift goal pursuit, making prior goals less important and subsequent goals more important.“People have multiple goals to pursue in their life and sometimes some of the goals may be fruitless,” Ping Dong, a co-author of the study, said. “But people often feel it’s hard to give up old goals and pick up new goals so maybe physical cleansing can help people shift their goal pursuits effectively.”The study, conducted by Dong, a PhD student in marketing, and Spike W.S. Lee, an assistant professor of marketing, was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.Groups of undergraduate students, ranging from 103 to 242 participants, were asked to complete word games or a short survey to bring their attention to particular goals, a process called “priming.” The groups were divided into two categories, those who then used a hand wipe and those who simply evaluated one.Article Continued BelowAfter using the hand wipe, members of that group were less likely to think about the previously primed goal, act in a way that was consistent with that goal, and find the previously primed goal important. If a goal was primed after cleansing, however, its importance was amplified. Research into the psychological effects of cleansing is not new. There have been a number of previous studies on the subject, finding that it influences guilt from immoral behaviour and dissonance from free choice. But this study examines the underlying mental process, arguing that cleansing functions as a procedure of psychological separation. Removing dirt from one’s hands works to dissociate prior experience from the present self, the study claims.“We are not the first to study these kinds of things,” Dong said. “But if you understand the mechanism, we can predict more effects of physical cleansing or other ways of manipulating or activating this psychological separation.”