Rituals that cleanse the body to purify the soul are at the core of religions worldwide. Now scientists find these ceremonies apparently have a psychological basis. Researchers discovered sins actually seem to urge people to clean themselves, a phenomenon they dubbed the ‘Macbeth effect’ after dramatized murderess Lady Macbeth, who vainly tried scrubbing her hands clean of imaginary blood in Shakespeare’s famed Scottish play. Intriguingly, the researchers also found purifying the body then helped people absolve their consciences. ‘Showering and handwashing occur daily, but now we find these core routines can really have a psychological impact,’ behavioral researcher Katie Liljenquist at Northwestern University in Chicago told LiveScience. Future studies could see whether ‘living in a very clean environment facilitates more ethical behavior, or ironically licenses unethical behavior,’ Liljenquist added. Liljenquist and her colleague Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto in Canada first asked undergraduate student volunteers to focus on ethical or unethical deeds from their past. The volunteers were more likely to interpret the word fragments ‘W _ _ H’ as ‘wash’ and ‘S _ _ P’ as ‘soap’ if they had been thinking of an unethical deed, and to choose an antiseptic wipe […]

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