The Question

Washing Yourself Is A Great Way To Rid Yourself Of Old Ideas

You know that scene in the movie when the protagonist has a major personal demon to vanquish? The chickens have come home to roost, and he has to think about things in a whole new way to solve his problems. What does he do? He takes a shower. As it turns out, washing yourself off might be the best first step to take when you've got to refocus your thoughts. Here's why.

Cleaning Off Your Brain's Slate

According to research carried out by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, washing yourself off can rid the mind of older ideas and make room for new ones. Here's how the study worked. First, participants were primed to think about certain personal goals through short surveys and word games—basically, they were presented with subtle clues encouraging thoughts about, for example, their health. Some were then asked to wash their hands, and others to only consider a hand wipe without using it. Finally, all were given a choice directly related to the goal they had been primed to think about. In the health example, all participants were offered either a chocolate bar or a granola bar, and the ones who'd washed their hands were more likely to go for the chocolate bar than those who'd only thought about it. What's more, the hand-washers were also more easily primed to hold other ideas in their heads.

According to the pair that ran the study, student Ping Dong and assistant professor Spike W. S. Lee, this indicates that the mere act of washing one's hands can have the effect of clearing the brain of older ideas, whether those ideas are helpful or not. That means that a shower might be the best course of action if you're struggling to get over an idea—something that's causing you a lot of anxiety, for example, or just a bad memory that's coloring your decision-making process. It is important to keep in mind that the research has only focused on short-term thinking, not the long-term pursuit of goals. Still, taking this advice could point you towards an intentional method for changing your way of thinking.

This Is Your Brain On Hygiene

Washing away old ideas isn't the only mental side effect of bodily hygiene. Actually, depending on what your brain needs, there's a lot that you could gain from taking a shower for the mind. One study, also led by Spike W. S. Lee, found that cleaning yourself could reduce feelings of doubt, and leave you more confident about your decisions. Another investigated what they called the "Macbeth effect," where washing is an immediate reaction to feelings of guilt, and found that cleansing really could assuage a riled-up conscience.

Finally, washing up could be step one in helping you get onto a high horse—Chen Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto found that people who had recently cleaned themselves up were more likely to judge others harshly. Basically, whether you're trying to find a new way of thinking or take the time to pump yourself up, a shower is a great way to kickstart the process.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Psychology And Hygiene

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Written by Reuben Westmaas June 21, 2017

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