The underlying effect of physical cleansing in a moral threat situation
Wijdeven, L.A.N. van de
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In two experiments, we aimed to discover whether the beneficial effect of physical cleansing in a moral confrontation can be best explained by a moral buffer, which provides a boost to the moral self-image (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006), or by a clean slate, which washes away past behavior (Lee & Schwartz, 2011). In Experiment 1, participants first tasted a sausage and were then confronted with a bogus participant who refused to taste the sausage on moral grounds. Results showed that participants who cleansed their hands before the confrontation with the moral refuser felt more dislike for the refuser than participants who cleansed their hands after the confrontation or not at all. In Experiment 2, participants had to give an anti-gay rights speech, and were then confronted with a moral refuser, after they received a moral boost or blow and cleansed their hands (or not). Although no significant effects were found in Experiment 2, overall findings suggest that the beneficial effect of physical cleansing are due to a moral buffer, rather than a clean slate. This implies that the negative effects of a moral confrontation could be prevented when one physically cleanse his/herself beforehand, because it enhances the moral self image.