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Can Washing Your Hands Enhance Optimism?

Can Washing Your Hands Enhance Optimism? A new German research study discovered that a simple physical cleansing act — such as washing one’s hands — can help us better deal with failure.

Dr. Kai Kaspar from the University of Cologne looked at the value of cleansing the body after a failure, and if the physical action affected optimism.

He discovered that test subjects who washed their hands after a task were more optimistic than those who did not wash their hands, but it hampered their future performance in the same task domain.

The research findings are published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

For the study, Kaspar divided 98 subjects into three groups.

In the first part of the experiment, participants from two groups had to solve an impossible task. Both the group who after failing washed their hands as well as the one that did not wash their hands were optimistic that they would do better the second time.

The optimism of the group who washed their hands was, however, much greater.

In contrast to the usual finding that higher optimism results in better performance, the opposite was the case here: the subjects who did not wash their hands did considerably better than the group who washed their hands.

Instead, the performance of those who had washed their hands was on the level if the third group who had not experienced failure and only taken part in the second test run.

According to Kaspar, it can be concluded from the results that while physical cleansing after failure may eliminate negative feelings, it reduces the motivation to try harder in a new test situation to restore one’s own perception of competence.

Hence, physical cleansing seems to result in being in a better position to deal with failure.

Experts believe the study will prompt more focus on the psychological effects of how our actions are influenced by our daily ritual of washing.

Source: University of Cologne


Happy woman washing her hands photo by shutterstock.

Can Washing Your Hands Enhance Optimism?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Can Washing Your Hands Enhance Optimism?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 16, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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