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Looking to reset your goals? It turns out that just washing your hands with an antiseptic wipe can help change your priorities.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management conducted four experiments that showed that when participants cleansed their hands with a wipe, they viewed the previous goals they made as less important. However, they tended to view the goals they made AFTER cleansing as more important.
“Cleansing can change people’s real behavior,” Ping Dong, a PhD student in marketing and an author of the paper, told TODAY. “The research shows that it’s very difficult for people to adjust their goal pursuit … Even if the goal is not promising.” In those situations, Dong said, “an antiseptic wipe might come in handy.”
For example, in one of the experiments, researchers asked about 250 participants to unscramble sentences that either included health-related words (“Being healthy is important”) or no health-related words (“This ball is blue”).
The participants were then asked to do a “product evaluation” of a brand of antiseptic wipes, though only half of the participants were instructed to wipe down their hands with the wipes. The other half just examined the box and labeling.
After the study, all participants were given a choice of either a 90-calorie granola bar or a 250-calorie chocolate bar to take with them. Participants who had unscrambled sentences with health-related words tended to pick the healthier granola bar— unless they had cleansed their hands with the antiseptic wipe. Using the antiseptic wipe made those participants less likely to choose the granola bar, as if washing their hands also washed away those healthy thoughts.
The study is not the first to link cleaning with mental reset. Other research has shown that cleaning your hands can reduce guilt after engaging in immoral behaviors, Dong noted. But this study is the first to look at just how cleaning your hands can also affect your goals.
One limitation is that the researchers were only able to look at short-term goal pursuit: In other words, they measured participants’ goals right after they cleansed their hands. Future research could expand on the study by looking at whether people’s goals were affected after a one-day delay or more, to see whether cleansing also has longer-term effects.
Still, the idea that we can wipe away our old goals is intriguing, and if you’re looking to make new resolutions, washing your hands may not be such a bad start.
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