Damned Spot: Guilt, Scrubbing, and More Guilt

The Huffington Post:

Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters, and by far the bard’s most obsessive. Immorally ambitious, she prods her husband to murder Scotland’s king, and then deludes herself into believing that “a little water will clear us of this deed.” But for all of her repeated hand washing, the ritual cannot cleanse her of her consuming guilt, and by Act V the stubborn blood stains have driven the illegitimate queen to madness and suicide.

And they were, clearly. As Dar reports in a forthcoming article in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, hand washing did salve guilt about past misdeeds, and reduce willingness to help another person. This was expected. But even more important here, the OCD patients were particularly susceptible to this effect. In fact, they were extremely willing to help the hapless grad student if they had not washed their hands; and if they did wash their hands, they showed zero inclination to lend a hand. What’s more, it appears that this psychological effect works by relieving moral emotions like guilt, shame and embarrassment. Put another way, the ritualistic washing seems to have created a sense of “moral relief.”

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology.

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