It’s easy to confuse a simple decision with a life-or-death scenario. From choosing a career to choosing an avocado, no one wants to make a mistake! But you don’t have to let these forks in the road haunt you forever—or even for minutes after you’ve made your choice. More than 400 years ago, Shakespeare unknowingly proposed a solution now called the “Lady Macbeth effect.”
You may remember from a high school reading of the play that the heroine makes a big decision of her own in Act V, Scene 1. Having pressured her husband to commit regicide, Lady MacBeth washes her hands with water—figuratively washing away King Duncan’s blood—in a bid for absolution. We’re not saying whether or not Lady Macbeth made the right decision, but she may have been onto something.
Even though—spoiler alert!—Lady Macbeth’s ending isn’t a happy one, some research does suggest that a good scrub might help you move on with the rest of your life. As part of a study published in the journal Science, researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, set out to determine whether or not hand washing helps to calm oneself after a weighty decision, reports NPR.
For the sake of the experiment, participants ranked 10 music CDs (I know, throwback). Then, researchers asked them to choose their fifth or sixth favorite album as a gift. They made their choices and some of the music-lovers were told to wash their hands while others were not. Later, the researchers once again asked their subjects to rank the tunes. And as if Lady Macbeth herself whispered in their ears, those who lathered up ranked their music preferences in the same order whereas those who didn’t ranked their take-home CD higher on their respective lists, suggesting a subconscious need to justify their choices.
Again, more research is needed before declaring soap and water the conduits for ultimate vindication. In the meantime, I don’t see any harm in following-up your most nail-biting toss-ups with a bubble bath or ultra-luxe shower.
If you want to forgive yourself and others with a better outcome than Lady Macbeth, here’s a hint to take from T. Swift and Katy Perry. Plus, how to absolve yourself when no one else will.
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