Saturday, September 16, 2006

Macbeth effect


From the NYTimes story on a recent study that found this interesting effect:

... People who washed their hands after contemplating an unethical act were less troubled by their thoughts than those who didn’t, the study found.

“The association between moral and physical purity has been taken for granted for so long that it was startling that no one had ever shown empirical evidence of it,” said Chen-Bo Zhong, an author of the new research and a behavioral researcher at the University of Toronto. The study, which he wrote with Katie Liljenquist, a graduate student at Northwestern University, appeared in the journal Science.

The researchers call this urge to clean up the “Macbeth effect,” after the scene in Shakespeare’s tragedy in which Lady Macbeth moans, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” after bloodying her hands when her husband, at her urging, murders King Duncan.

2 Comments:

  1. ANANDASWARUP said...

    Abi,
    This news is interesting for me, an agnostic tending towars atheism. It is not clear whether there are universal morals ( though some evolutionary psychologists tend to some universals; see http://www.umass.edu/preferen/gintis/buller.pdf). What this experiment seems to indicate is that most have moral sense ( whether it is the same for all is not clear). Hopefully (?), there are enough common elements to have an acceptable system of right and wrong for all. The experiment indicates that some aspects can be experimentally checked (?).
    There is an interesting discussion http://www.janegalt.net/archives/009452.html
    which may be considered (?) as applied aspects of this problem.

  2. ANANDASWARUP said...

    Pl. see the discussion here:
    http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory/2006/09/the_influence_of_irrelevant_em.php#comments
    He has a few more survey articles (links in the above article). This author Chris does not seem to think that evolutionary psychology is necessary and moral issues can be studied by cognition experiments. that is the impression I get. One of the few referred to both groups is Antonio Damasio. I am still struggling with all these articles and have no final comments.