Self-washing after a stressful event reduces anxiety, according to research that was just published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Self-washing can help mitigate the negative psychological effects of traumatic experiences.
The new findings provide some of the first empirical evidence that cleaning oneself is associated with a decrease in anxiety.
However, why were researchers interested in investigating the connection between self-cleaning and stress in the first place? “Blame it on my possibly subclinical obsessive-compulsive nature,” noted the study’s author, Spike W. S. Lee. Lee is the head of the Mind and Body Lab at the University of Toronto. He is an associate professor of management and psychology at the university.
“The psychology behind people’s housekeeping habits has always been an area of great interest to me. Why do different faiths practice different kinds of ceremonial cleansing? Why do animals of different species engage in cleaning activities when they are placed in stressful situations? Also. why do we use idioms such as “start over” and “clear the slate”?
The participants were asked to watch a short video clip. This video clip depicted a fearful woman standing at the brink of a bungee jump station. These 1,150 people were recruited by Lee and his research team using Prolific. It was demonstrated in the past that seeing the film gave viewers feelings of worry, stress and unease.
A study shows self-washing after a stressful event reduces anxiety.
The participants were then given a choice to either watch a video demonstrating how to correctly wash their hands. A video demonstrating how to draw a circle, or a video demonstrating how to peel an egg. Each of these videos was shown to the participants in a random order.
Those who saw the video on proper hand washing had a greater tendency. That is, to later report experiencing lower levels of anxiety. This is when compared to those who watched either of the other two movies.
The researchers then conducted a second experiment in which they attempted to duplicate the findings. This time, they used 1,377 people who had been found through the crowdsourcing site Amazon Mechanical Turk.
The researchers did observe, however, that there was an aspect of self-touch present in the hand washing film. They made the observation that “since touch is relaxing and calming, what looked to be cleaning effects could have been touch effects instead.”
They also went on to say that this was a possibility. The researchers did a third experiment with 465 individuals in which the three films were substituted with mental imagery activities. This was done so that they could account for the potential conundrum that was presented.
After watching the video that was designed to make the participants anxious, they were given one of three possible instructions. “Imagine you are getting your arms, face, neck, and hair thoroughly cleansed with water.” “Imagine you are touching your arms, face, and hair to thoroughly feel yourself.” Or they were not instructed to imagine anything at all.
Lee and his colleagues found that people who thought about cleaning tended to feel less anxiety than those who thought about making contact or who took part in the control condition. This was in line with what they had predicted.
According to what Lee had to say, “when we participate in cleaning behavior, it includes removing residues from our bodies.” This fundamental, physical feeling of removing leftovers from our bodies might spark a deeper psychological type of separation.
Specifically, separating the residual effect of past events from the current moment “(e.g., wiping the slate clean). If the events in the past were unpleasant for you, then creating a psychological distance between those events and the present will help lower your stress.
The researchers uncovered further evidence after fourth experience
The researchers uncovered further evidence supporting their theory. This is when they carried out their fourth and final experiment. This evidence was physiological in nature. Seventy-four students from a large university in Canada took part in the experiment. Their heart rates were tracked while they did two rounds of an exercise that was meant to make them feel anxious.
It was explained to the participants that the researchers were hoping to gain a better understanding of the physiological reactions. That is the reaction that occurs in response to intellectual and academic challenges.
They were given the assignment to deliver a speech that lasted for five minutes and explained why they were qualified to head a team at a consulting business. They presented their case in front of two judges who were dressed in white lab coats and “appeared serious the entire time, with blank eyes, no smiling, and no hint of approbation.”
After that, a random assignment was made to determine whether the participants would actually use an antiseptic wipe or just observe one being used. After ten minutes of filler work, they either used the sanitizing gel or just looked at it.
Also, after that, each participant gave a second speech, which was intended to be somewhat less nerve-wracking than the first one they had given. It seemed like the judges were in a better mood, and they gave some encouraging remarks.
The researchers concluded that the outcomes of the final trial revealed that “cleaning behavior leads to a more adaptable profile of cardiovascular reactivity.” [Cleaning behavior] results in a more adaptive profile of cardiovascular reactivity.
However, Lee pointed out that the study, much like other studies, has a few important qualifications attached to it. Even though we found the phenomenon in samples from people of many different ages, he pointed out that the samples were all from people in the West.
“It is unknown at this time whether or not the phenomenon occurs in other cultural contexts. Also, our results suggest that more research should be done to find out what other good things might happen when people clean in their everyday lives.
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