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Can You Really Wash Away Your Troubles?

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It might really be possible to wash your troubles away.

A new review of studies published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science shows that the act of washing yourself, including religious rites such as baptism, really holds psychological power.

Just washing your hands or taking a shower can help people to "rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision," study researcher Spike W.S. Lee, of the University of Michigan, said in a statement. "The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues."

In one of the studies included in the review, researchers had study participants think about their own moral wrongdoings. They found that people felt less guilty about those wrongdoings after using an antiseptic hand wipe, and people who used the hand wipes were also less likely to want to volunteer to participate in a good deed to make up for the wrongdoing.

And in another one of the studies, researchers found that people who imagined themselves as "clean and fresh" judged other people for things like masturbation and abortion than people who imagined themselves as "dirty and stinky."

Washing oneself also seemed to remove doubt (like betting higher stakes while gambling after a bad streak, suggesting that the bad luck has been washed away), though it seemed, too, to be able to "wash" away that warm feeling that comes from happy memories, researchers said.

"Cleansing removes the residual influence of earlier experience," Lee said in a statement.

Regardless of whether washing your hands holds a psychological significance for you, it seems more of us are doing it -- a study published last year shows that 85 percent of Americans wash their hands (a rise from 77 percent in 2007), the Associated Press reported.

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