There are many health reasons to wash your hands, but it can also have psychological effects.
Is there any psychological benefit to washing with soap? If so, how can we intentionally use that to our advantage? Cleansers are designed to remove dead skin cells, grime, make-up, sweat, and bacteria from the skin. Cleansing prepares the skin for other skincare treatments such as a mask, exfoliant, toner, or moisturizer.
But did you know that cleansing also has psychological benefits? Yes! Many religions and poets have linked physical and spiritual cleansing, of course. And metaphors abound about “washing your hands” of something disagreeable.
It provides a sense of renewal and rejuvenation and restores the mental and emotional state. When I’m dirty and sweaty it makes me feel not only physically clean to take a shower, but there is also a mental transformation that takes place. And when I’m feeling out-of-sorts or just had a good cry, it makes me feel mentally refreshed to wash my face.
By washing the hands, taking a shower, or even thinking of doing so, “people can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision. The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues.”
During the last decade researchers, using a variety of psychological tests, have found that handwashing can indeed have a psychologically cleansing effect. In one study, for instance, people asked to recall unethical deeds from their past were more likely to feel a need to clean their hands, and felt somewhat less regretful after doing so. A few years ago, in a study in Science, college students who washed their hands (or used hand wipes) felt less remorse and did less second-guessing after choosing between two good options.
But next time you feel guilty over, say, eating too many cookies or yelling at your spouse, besides resolving to do better next time, see if a good scrub helps.
There are so many psychological effects of washing with soap. However here are just 3:
1. Washing your hands can make you feel comfortable with your decisions.
We’ve all had those times when we make a decision, and then start to question whether we made the right choice or not.
Research carried out at the University of Michigan found that washing your hands straight after making a decision can put a stop to that doubt. It’s as if washing your hands washes away any doubt that you might have made the wrong decision.
So next time you make a decision that you’re not 100% certain about, go and give your hands a wash to get rid of any last trace of that doubt.
2. Feel less guilty
In the mind, dirt is associated with guilt, so theoretically washing doesn’t just remove dirt, it also removes a guilty feeling.
3. Washing your hands can convince other people to do the same.
We so often are led by what other people are doing. If we notice that another person in the toilet with us is washing their hands with soap, then we may well be more likely to do the same.
So I’ll be encouraging my children to wash their hands properly with soap by reminding them that this is what I do. And by letting them see me wash my hands thoroughly as often as possible.
Something to think about next time someone in your family is sick and you’re washing your hands for the thousandth time that day!
We’d love to hear from you. What are situations where washing with soap makes you have a change of mind?