Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

The Uncertain Universality of the Macbeth Effect with a Spanish Sample

Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

The Uncertain Universality of the Macbeth Effect with a Spanish Sample

Article excerpt

Recently a psychological mechanism has been proposed between bodily purity and moral purity: the "Macbeth effect". The act of washing their hands seems to free individuals of their guilt. However, the universality of this psychological mechanism is an empirical question that should be studied. In four studies we replicated the original Zhong & Liljenquist's experiments with Spanish samples. We were unsuccessful in replicating the Zhong & Liljenquist's results that supported cleansing as a psychological mechanism for compensating guilty: results couldn't confirm an increased mental accessibility of cleansing-related concepts or even a greater desire for cleansing products, neither a greater likelihood of taking antiseptic wipes. In addition we didn't find that physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behaviour. Spanish samples showed sensibility to morality and helping behaviour but not with cleansing as a way to reduce their threatened morality. .

Keywords: morality, social cognition, interpersonal sensibility, guilt, Macbeth effect.

Recientemente se ha propuesto un proceso psicológico que vincularía la limpieza corporal y la limpieza moral: el efecto Macbeth. De acuerdo con él, lavarse las manos nos ayudaría a liberarnos del sentimiento de culpa. Sin embargo, la universalidad de este fenómeno no está suficientemente acreditada y debe ser sometida a escrutinio empírico. Con ese fin, se replicaron con sujetos españoles los cuatro experimentos de Zhong y Liljenquist (2006). Los resultados no van en la línea de los originales, de modo que no se ha podido confirmar el carácter liberador de la culpa que tendrían los actos de lavado. Así, no se observó un incremento en la accesibilidad de los conceptos relacionados con la limpieza. Tampoco un incremento en el atractivo de los productos propios de esta actividad, ni un cambio en la probabilidad de elegir una toallita antiséptica. Por último, no se pudo observar que el acto de lavarse las manos aliviara las emociones negativas asociadas a un acto moralmente inadecuado. Los sujetos españoles, que sí son sensibles a las necesidades del prójimo, no parecen relacionar la limpieza con el alivio de esas emociones negativas.

Palabras clave: moral, cognición social, sensibilidad interpersonal, culpa, efecto Macbeth.

Is there a universal psychological mechanism of physical cleansing aimed to adaptively compensate for guilt? An overview of many religions in the world suggests that the answer is affirmative, and that water rituals could be such a mechanism. This is the point of the research carried out by Zhong and Liljenquist (2006), These authors claim that what they call the "Macbeth effect" is a basic coping mechanism that could be used when people want to deal with the consequences of unethical behavior. The mechanism is as simple as to cleanse oneself. In defense of their hypothesis they call for arguments that suggest the universality of the physical cleansing to compensate for moral impurity. Evidence come from: (a) The fact that physical cleansing is a ritual for purity in different religions; and (b) Physical and moral disgust lead to similar facial expressions and physiological activation, and recruit partially overlapping brain regions (Moll et al., 2005). An original contribution of their research is that physical cleansing may wash away moral sins through symbolic self-completion. Thus, when moral self-definition is at stake, such as when one has indulged in morally questionable activities, one should naturally be motivated to engage in activities that will restore moral integrity. The restoration of the moral self can be achieved through direct restitution, but it may also be achieved through substitutable symbols or activities as physical cleansing that are not directly related with morality (Tetlock, Kristel, & Elson, 2000).

These arguments implicitly suppose the universality of the psychological mechanism of physical cleansing for restoring moral integrity. …

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