How to shake off those regrets -- no Lady Macbeth routine required.
- By Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer
Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is assistant managing editor for online at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley, and master's degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.
Different cultures have long recognized the transcendent power of ritual hand-washing. From Shintoism to Judaism to Hinduism to Islam, major religious traditions require hand-washing before certain meals or prayers to ensure clean palms — and a pure spirit.
Turns out, there really is some emotional value in a good wash. Research shows that even watching someone else wash his or her hands can make a person feel less guilty about past misdeeds.
Researchers at the University of Grenoble, the Catholic University of Louvain, and Ohio State University asked 65 adults to remember and write down a wrong they had committed against someone close to them. The participants were then asked to either use a wet wipe to clean their hands, watch a two-minute video of someone else using a wet wipe, or watch a two-minute video of a person typing. Afterward, they were asked to take a few tests to rate how guilty they felt and — only if they wanted — to help a Ph.D. student by completing questionnaires about local public transportation and returning them in three weeks.
Those who watched the typing video had the highest average guilt scores; those who washed their own hands scored the lowest. Meanwhile, participants whose hands had never gotten wet but who had watched others wash scored in between, demonstrating the power that even a vicarious cleansing has to send feelings of guilt down the drain. (To be sure, these participants’ average guilt scores fell closer to those of the people who had watched the typing video.)
As for the questionnaires, those were meant to test what researchers call "prosocial behavior": actions that, in assisting others, help alleviate guilt. Participants who had washed their own hands returned the fewest questionnaires, those who had watched the typing video returned the most, and vicarious washers returned at a rate somewhere in between — yet another indication that watching a hand-washing video made them feel that they had less for which to atone.
The power of even the briskest, most thorough scrub only goes so far when it comes to our emotions, of course. But the next time you forget to call your mother, a quick viewing of a hand-washing video on YouTube (they do exist) may just help you shake off those feelings of regret.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |