With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments
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With a Clean Conscience Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments. S.Schnall, J.Benton & S.Harvey (2008) Becky, Joanna, Julia, Mairi & Tim. Introduction. “Many cultures equate physical cleanliness with moral and spiritual purity” (p.1119)

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With a Clean Conscience Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments

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With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

With a Clean ConscienceCleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments

S.Schnall, J.Benton & S.Harvey (2008)

Becky, Joanna, Julia, Mairi & Tim


Introduction

Introduction


With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

“Many cultures equate physical cleanliness with moral and spiritual purity” (p.1119)

  • Including religious rituals: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism are some of the many religions that carry out cleansing rituals before particular activities such as worship.

  • Some researchers have suggested that we may have an innate desire to cleanse our bodies when feeling ‘disgust’ aimed not only to rid our bodies of potentially harmful substances, but also social and moral harm. (Haidt & Joseph, 2008).

  • From this idea, it has since been suggested that when people find situations or actions morally wrong, they will feel disgust.


With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

  • Mulims carry out wudhu cleansing rituals before praying.

  • Students in Japan cleansing themselves before entering Shinjo Shrine.


With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

Some recent experiments have provided evidence supporting the theory that cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgements.

For example, Schnall et al (2008) found when participants recalled a disgusting experience, or watched a video which induced the feeling of disgust, they rated moral judgements as more severe.

Zhong and Liljenquist (2006) found that participants were more likely to use cleansing words after recalling a past moral transgression and appeared to want to engage in cleansing behaviour.


With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

  • The current study assessed this theory further by exploring whether physically cleaning oneself after feeling ‘disgust’ could reduce the severity of moral judgements.

  • Research has shown that participants can be primed in subtle ways to feel emotions such as disgust (Holland et al, 2005) and therefore the current study used two priming methods, with the prediction that cleanliness priming would reduce the severity of moral judgements.


Experiment 1 methods

Experiment 1 Methods

  • Participants

  • Forty University of Plymouth undergraduate students (30 female, 10 male, mean age = 20 years) participated as part of a course requirement.

  • Procedure

  • First participants completed a scrambled sentences task involving 40 sets of four words each. By underlying any three words in a set a sentence could be formed.

  • In the neutral condition all the sets of words were neutral with regard to cleanliness and purity. However in the cleanliness condition half of the sets contained words related to cleanliness and purity e.g. pure, pristine and immaculate, and the other sets contained only neutral words.

  • Immediately after the priming task, participants rated six moral dilemmas, e.g. whether to switch the tracks of a trolley to kill one workman instead of five. Participants rated how wrong each action was from 0 (perfectly ok) to 9 (extremely wrong.)

  • Participants subsequently indicating their feelings of relaxation, anger, happiness, sadness, fear, depression, disgust, upset and confusion, on a scale from “don’t feel at all” to “feel very strongly.”


Experiment 1 results and discussion

Experiment 1 Results and Discussion

  • Results

  • To test whether the priming had an effect on the emotion ratings as assessed at the end of the experiment, ratings were analysed by one way ANOVAS with priming (cleanliness vs. neutral) as a factor. No group differences were found on any of the emotion ratings, thus it appears that the cleanliness priming did not induce any specific mood.

  • To test whether priming the participants with cleanliness reduced the severity of moral judgements; a one way ANOVA was conducted with priming as a factor. As predicted participants gave lower ratings after the cleanliness priming than they did after the neutral priming.

  • Discussion

  • The first experiment demonstrated that participants found moral transgressions to be less bad after concepts of cleanliness were cognitively activated. This finding indicates the connection between cognitive and moral purity and shows that intuitive concepts can have an influence on moral judgements independently of deliberate reasoning processes.


Experiment 2

Experiment 2

  • Another central component of purity is the physical behaviour of cleansing one’s body from experienced contaminants.

  • Disgust – the feeling indicating absence of physical purity might be an especially embodied emotion because of its connection to nausea etc.

  • Aim – to test whether the effect that disgust can have on making more severe moral judgements could be reduced when participants were given an opportunity to physically cleanse themselves after the experience of disgust.


Method procedure

Method & Procedure

  • 44 undergraduate students

    • 32 female, 12 male.

  • Participants watched a 3 minute disgusting film clip from the film Trainspotting.

  • ½ participants were asked to wash their hands with soap before completing the moral dilemmas test while remaining participants went straight onto completing the test.

  • All participants completed the same 6 vignettes used in experiment 1.

  • To ensure the film induced comparable levels of disgust in both conditions participants were asked to think back to how they felt immediately after watching the film and indicate their feelings at the time using the same emotion rating scales as in experiment 1.


With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

Experiment 2: Results and Discussion

Emotional ratings and subsequent moral judgements were assessed.

ANOVA testing carried out on 9 emotional ratings.

Focussed specifically on disgust which was found to be felt more strongly than other emotions

Disgust levels were equal in the hand washing and non hand washing conditions prior to assessing moral judgements.

Found that Participants in the hand washing condition had less severe moral judgements than those in the non-hand washing condition.


With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments

Trolley and Wallet results above were significant.

This suggested that the act of physically cleansing oneself had reduced the participants level of disgust and therefore made their moral judgements less severe.

Limitations:

  • Raised question of the effect of priming the cognitive construct of cleanliness. Saying words such as clean and tidy when prompting to wash hands.

  • This cognitive priming could have amplified the effect noted.


Conclusion

Activating intuitions (both conceptually and physically) about cleanliness reduces severity of moral judgments

-- effects substantial

Purity can serve as a basic intuition

Supports Haidt’s (2001) social intuitionist model

-- moral judgments do not have to involve specific emotional processes

Further than personal morality - Zhong & Liljenquist (2006)

‘Purity’ is not just a metaphor

CONCLUSION


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