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The Uncertain Universality of the Macbeth Effect with a Spanish Sample

  • Elena Gámez (a1), José M. Díaz (a1) and Hipólito Marrero (a1)

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.

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.

Corresponding author
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Elena Gámez. Facultad de Psicología. Universidad de La Laguna. Campus de Guajara s/n. 38071 La Laguna. Santa Cruz de Tenerife. (Spain). E-mail:
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The Spanish Journal of Psychology
  • ISSN: 1138-7416
  • EISSN: 1988-2904
  • URL: /core/journals/spanish-journal-of-psychology
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