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Hand-washing is like hitting a reset button in the brain

June 12 (UPI) — Hand-washing has surprising effects on the human brain. According to a series of experiments conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto, the act of hand-washing leads to more flexible thinking.

Researchers found the intellectual priorities of study participants who had disinfected their hands with cleansing wipes were more malleable. In other words, a person’s goals were more easily reoriented after hand-washing.

To begin the experiment, researchers at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management primed participants for a specific goal or behavioral outcome using word games or surveys. Participants were then asked to either evaluate a cleansing hand wipe or use one.

Participants who used a hand wipe proved to be less influenced by their priming. They were less likely to act in ways accordant with their primed goal or behavior.

“For people who were primed with a health goal, for example, using the handwipe reduced their subsequent tendency to behave in a healthy manner — they were more likely to choose a chocolate bar over a granola bar,” Ping Dong, a PhD student in marketing at Rotman, said in a news release.

The psychological benefits of “cleansing” behavior have been previously documented. Taking a shower after immoral behavior can lessen the levels of guilt experienced by a person, for example.

The latest research — published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology — further detailed the ways in which cleansing behavior can impact a person’s thinking.

Hand-washing effectively cleansed a person’s brain of old ideas, and made people more susceptible to new ways of thinking. The psychological phenomenon could be used to help people shirk bad ideas and poor behavior in favor of new, healthier habits, researchers say.

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