Wash Your Hands Anyway

Photo Credit: CDC/Amanda Mills

Photo Credit: CDC/Amanda Mills

New research shows that hand washing can make you feel better after taking a tough test. But you might not do as well next time as those who didn’t bother washing up afterward.

As a test, psychologist Kai Kaspar at the University of Cologne had groups of people try to do impossible tasks. Afterward, one group of people washed their hands. The other did not.

The hand washing group felt more optimistic that they would do better on the test next time. On the retest, however, the clean-hands group did worse than the other group.

Kaspar suggests that physical cleansing can help us deal with failure. However, it might also reduce the motivation to try harder next time. Kaspar says more research should be done.

I’m all for studies that look into how rituals might affect our perception and performance. But I hope students don’t decide to avoid hand washing for fear it might mess up whatever retest they might take. The idea that teens would come in to retake the SATs with grime-coated hands is disturbing.

If anything, we need to remind everyone that hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease. “Clean hands save lives,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you need a refresher course, the Mayo Clinic offers some how-to tips. There’s no formal test afterward, though. I don’t even want to start thinking how Kaspar’s research results would apply to a test on hand washing itself.

Just remember: Washing hands reduces your chances of getting sick. And feeling sick and miserable won’t help you do better on any test you face—in the classroom or in the course of daily life.

So lather up, everyone. Let’s keep those hands clean!

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