Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments Study Critic

Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments Study Critic

Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments: Study Critic


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Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments: Study Critic

Replication of studies has created questions over certain conclusions and generated considerable conflict between psychologists. Replication, which, as the name suggests, is the repeating of previously conducted studies has been a key concept of science for a long time and useful in detecting the occasional cases of swindle. Because the science of psychology does give room for findings to go unquestioned, replication guides against the recognition of findings that were essentially accidental false positives with criticism. By doing so, it allows researchers to refine the techniques applied in various studies and uphold the presence of new facts that scientific theories must expound. Several articles have not produced the same findings after replication raising conflict across the psychology field.

One issue that has raised controversy in the field of psychology is the idea of cleanliness influencing moral judgments. Schnall et al. (2008), in their article With a clean conscience: cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments, Recounted that triggering the idea of bodily purity resulted in less severe decent judgment. Johnson et al., 2014 replicated the study using the same sample sizes but did not achieve the same outcome. In their article, Schnall et al. (2008) used two experiments to quantify the impact of people’s thoughts or perceptions of hygiene on the severity of their moral judgments. The first experiment included 40 undergraduate students who were given the directive to decipher sentences with 20 of them allotted words that were affiliated to cleanliness (such as pristine or pure), and the other half was given neutral words (Schnall et al., 2008a). The second experiment used 43 undergraduates who were asked to watch the truly horrendous restroom section from the Danny Boyle movie, Trainspotting (Schnall et al., 2008b). After viewing the scene, half of this number was requested to clean their hands while the others were not. All the participants from both tests were given six hypothetical scenarios and asked to rate the ethical wrongness of each.

Those that washed hands and those that scrambled the sentences with words linked to hygiene considered the situations less immoral than the rest of the group. The investigators established that priming participants to have a thought about cleanliness “significantly” impacted on their moral judgment. The implication was that people that had a sense of purity about themselves are unconsciously less concerned by the impurities of others. David Johnson, Felix Cheung, and Brent Donnellan reported that they were incapable of replicating the study findings. At least five years later, Jonson et al. (2014) did a fairly direct replication with a considerably larger number of subjects.

The notion of cleanliness having an effect on morality is an interesting topic since it has a connection to the personification literature and the study on the instinctive and nonrational backers to a moral conclusion. There is a huge possibility that these findings may have moral judgments. Johnson et al. (2014) after replicating the study with 731 subjects, they found that those who washed hands after an experience did not show any difference in their moral judgments from those that did not wash their hands. The study did not find any support for the assumption that cleansing behaviors impacted on moral judgments. Johnson et al. (2014) also reported that their findings did not just contrast with those generated by Schnall et al. (2014) but also with possibly contradictory expectations that being clean physically should result in more austere moral judgments. There was also a hint that individual body awareness curbed the effect of the cleanliness manipulation.

Many psychologists and Schnall et al., (2008) themselves, criticized this replication. They termed this replication an attack with some calling Johnson et al., (2014) “replication bullies,” “data detectives,” and “false positive law enforcement.” They suggested that the replication was not aimed to find the truth but was vendetta by people that were not able to make their own novel contribution to science (Meyer & Chabris, 2014). To illustrate just how heated this debate went, those that supported the replication were threatened with legal action by suggesting researchers like Schnall, whose work failed a replication applied questionable research practices in order to create desirable and publishable findings.

But here is a critic, academic analysis of the two studies and evaluation of the ground for the findings presented by Johnson et al. One difference between the studies was the setting where the sink was outside where the subjects finished the moral piece. The possibility of this change of setting upsetting the effects to a certain extent cannot be ignored. However, the primary focus of the study is the act of cleansing and not the location of the washing bay. In the initial study, all participants were in one conference hall where the sink was located, meaning those that did not wash their hands were also exposed to the sink. But still, the original study recorded a difference between those who washed hands and the control group. If the location of the sink were enough to affect prime cleanliness, then Schnall would have recorded a reduced margin in the difference between those who washed their hands and the control group. If the presence of the sink had an effect on the behavior of the subjects, then the absence of the sink from the conference room would debatably reinforce the replication manipulate. Moreover, if the effects of the original experiment depended on the perceptibility of the sink, then the notion that a decently embodied process propels the cleansing effects would be significantly undermined.

The results generated by the replication point to the effect size estimates from studies of the same manner are considerably smaller than those generated by the original studies. One point that may expound on this phenomenon is the presence of unknown moderators that explain these clear discrepancies. The subjects used in the replication were undergraduates from the United States, and the original study was from the United Kingdom. There is a possibility that the differences in culture may mean the difference in moral judgment or the significance of cleanliness, which may, in turn, explain the discrepancies. However, the authors of the original SBH studies contended that the association between disgust and bodily consciousness is an evolved alteration, and they did not suggest there being a possibility of discrepancies in results across samples selected from different cultures.

Also, the US and the UK have an extensive similarity in terms of language and culture, with several studies in the past indicating a similarity between disgust and moral judgment in subjects from the UK and the US. This creates clear uncertainty as to whether the difference in samples is a feasible explanation for the difference in results.

Another article revisits this debate. Huang (2014), in his article, studies the likelihood that only non-conscious triggering of the purity idea, as realized in subjects with low reaction determination on priming tools, can generate the projected consequence. Huang (2014) did an online duplication with a population of 214 and found out that, when the study subjects applied low (yet accepted) intensities of reaction effort to the investigational material, cleanliness priming resulted in more tolerant moral judgments in comparison to neutral priming. The article also did a second experiment, as did Schnall et al., using a population of 440 influencing participant’s effort on the priming undertaking sustained the hypothesized device. Precisely, participants in the low response effort category were required to finish the task with speed while avoiding concentrating or paying too much thoughtfulness and the consequences of the cleanliness priming were less severe ethical verdicts than the neutral moral judgments as it was anticipated.

Contrary to the above, the high effort category were required to perform as quickly as they could on the priming task, but there was no significant discrepancy in the decent ratings between cleanliness and the control conditions. Hang (2014) sought to sort out the controversy surrounding the cleanliness hypothesis in addition to this, the article sought to draw attention to the role played by the response effort in effecting and replicating priming studies.

Although replication is key to the science of psychology, the field does not provide much incentive to encourage duplication studies. The success or failure of a replication study does not change the fact that such kind of studies improves the accuracy of effect size approximations for the field of psychology. Replication emphasizes the need for additional work and provides additional information for a pertinent idea. The studies replicating Schnall et al., (2008) advocate that the effect sizes surrounding the consequence of cleanliness on ethical verdict may be lesser than the approximations delivered by the original studies.


Huang, J. L. (2014). Does cleanliness influence moral judgments? Response effort moderates the effect of cleanliness priming on moral judgments. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1276.

Johnson, D. J., Cheung, F., & Donnellan, M. B. (2014). Does cleanliness influence moral judgments?. Social Psychology.

Meyer, M., & Chabris, C. (2014). Psychologists? Food Fight Over Replication of ‘Important Findings? Retrieved from S., Benton J., Harvey S. (2008a). With a clean conscience cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments. Psychol. Sci. 19 1219–1222 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02227.x

Schnall S., Haidt J., Clore G. L., Jordan A. H. (2008b). Disgust as embodied moral judgment. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 34 1096–1109 10.1177/0146167208317771