- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

Cleansed of sin

“Another example would be the relation between morality and physical cleanliness. In my early work ‘Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing’ in collaboration with Katie Liljenquist [a professor of organizational behavior at Brigham Young University], we discussed how metaphors such as ‘dirty hands’ or ‘clean records’ may have a psychological basis such that people make sense of morality through physical cleanliness. …

“We tested this idea in multiple studies and showed that when reminded of their past moral transgressions, people were more likely to think about cleansing-related words such as ‘wash’ and ‘soap,’ expressed stronger preference for cleansing products (for instance, a soap bar), and were also more likely to accept an antiseptic wipe as a free gift (rather than a pencil with equal value).

“Further, physical cleansing may actually be effective in mentally getting rid of moral sins. In another study, in which participants who recalled unethical behaviors were either given a chance to cleanse their hands or not, we found that washing hands not only assuaged moral emotions such as guilt and regret, but also reduced participants’ willingness to engage in pro-social behaviors such as volunteering. Thus physical washing can actually wash away sins. Perhaps this effect is why most world religions practice some form of washing rituals to purify souls.”

Chen-Bo Zhong, in an interview on “Metaphors of the Mind: Why Loneliness Feels Cold and Sins Feel Dirty” on Sept. 25 at the Scientific American site

Learn by example

“I don’t have the academic credentials of composition experts, but I doubt many experts spent most of a decade writing between one and five term papers a day on virtually every subject. I know something they don’t know; I know why students don’t understand thesis statements, argumentative writing, or proper citations.

“It’s because students have never read term papers. Imagine trying to write a novel, for a grade, under a tight deadline, without ever having read a novel. Instead, you meet once or twice a week with someone who is an expert in describing what novels are like.”

Nick Mamatas, writing on “The Term Paper Artist” on Oct. 10 at the Smart Set

Next to godliness

“As Europe slowly moved toward the Enlightenment, various social movements interpreted cleanliness according to their own lights. In 17th-century Britain, for example, the combined influences of reforming Protestant sects and neoclassicism’s interest in Greek hygiene associated the ideas of ‘coolness, cleanness, and innocence.’ Cold air, vegetables, and baths were in vogue, and the last became a hallmark of the Englishman.

“By the 19th century, the industrial revolution was spewing its soot and smoke onto the newly crowded cities, which grew filthier than ever. Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert himself died of typhoid, one of the new plagues that accompanied urbanization, and British reformers made sanitation a political issue. Cities were gradually equipped with sewage systems, and their dwellings with indoor plumbing. …

“By the late 19th century, the United States was much cleaner than Europe. Towns and cities in the young country were newer and easier to equip with municipal sanitation and water systems. Americans liked innovation, and hotels proudly advertised showers and flush toilets as tourist attractions. … Even the reader’s notions of cleanliness have probably changed over his or her lifetime. Pollution has become the new filth, for example, and the ‘green’ movement upholds the new purity.”

Winifred Gallagher, writing on “Bath and Body Works” in the winter issue of the Wilson Quarterly

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