Can taking a shower make you more harsh?

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Physical cleanliness has many medical benefits, such as protection from the dangers of contagion. We explore a potential unintended consequence of cleanliness. Given the metaphorical association between physical cleanliness and moral purity (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006), we contend that a clean self may also be linked to a virtuous self. This enhanced moral self-perception can in turn license harsher moral judgment. Three experiments found that cleanliness, whether induced via physical cleansing or through a visualization task, licensed severe judgment on morally contested issues such as abortion and pornography. Further, we found that an inflated moral self mediated the relationship between cleanliness and moral judgment. These results provide unique insight to the social significance of cleanliness and may have important implications for discrimination and prejudice.

Source: “A clean self can render harsh moral judgment” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 46, Issue 5, September 2010, Pages 859-862

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