Washing your hands does not just keep them clean, but the act can also cleanse your brain of old ideas, a new study has revealed.

Researchers have discovered that the action can shift goal pursuit, making prior goals less important and subsequent goals more important.

The team has suggested that wiping away dirt serves as a physical proxy for mentally separating ideas that linger from previous experiences, reports Daily Mail.

The new discovery was made by a pair of researchers at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.


However, prior to the study, physical cleansing had been known to influence a range of psychological experiences, such as guilt from immoral behavior, dissonance from free choice, and good/bad luck from winning/losing.

Some people also have reported taking a shower after committing an "unclean act" in order to wash away the guilt.

However, the current research has investigated the underlying mental process, which includes cleansing embodies a psychological procedure of separation.

During the study, researchers carried out four experiments that began by bringing participants' attention to particular goals through word games or a short survey, a process called "priming."

The subjects were then asked to either evaluate or actually use a handwipe.

Those who used the sanitized clothes were less likely to look back on the previous primed goal, less likely to make behavioral choices consistent with it, and less likely to find it important.

And it was found that their focus was more easily reoriented towards a subsequently primed goal.

"For people who were primed with a health goal, for example, using the handwipe reduced their subsequent tendency to behave in a healthy manner - they were more likely to choose a chocolate bar over a granola bar," said Ping Dong, a PhD student in marketing who conducted the research with Spike W. S. Lee, an assistant professor of marketing.

Dong also noted that the research examined cleansing's short-term rather than long-term impact on goal pursuit.

Although more work is needed to claim people intent on achieving goals should significantly alter their personal hygiene routines, the findings have suggested that when it comes to finding practical tricks for redirecting one's thinking away from old fruitless pursuits towards new and better ones, an antiseptic wipe may come in handy.

A separate study, conducted by the University of Michigan, found similar results, as during the experiment, the volunteers were less likely to justify their choice if they washed their hands after making it.

The team found that this act can erase doubts you may have about your choices in the day, which has suggested that if you have to make a difficult decision, all you need to do is wash up.

"When people make decisions, they are often faced with choosing between two very attractive options," explained Spike Lee with the University of Michigan.

"Let's say they are choosing a vacation spot - Paris or Rome. After choosing, let's say, Paris, they justify their choice by thinking to themselves it is the right one because French cuisine is better and the art museums are fantastic."

"They are justifying their choice by focusing on the positive features."

"What our study showed was that after people washed their hands they no longer felt they had to justify their choice."

"They had washed away the compulsion to justify the choice they had made." The researchers added: "It's not just that washing your hands contributes to moral cleanliness as well as physical cleanliness."

Six-step technique for washing hands

To properly wash your hands using the superior six-step method begin by wetting hands with water and grab either a dollop of soap or hand rub.

Begin rubbing your palms together with your fingers closed, then together with fingers interlaced.

Move your right palm over left dorsum with interlaced fingers and vice versa - make sure to really rub in between your fingers.

Then interlock your fingers and rub the back of them by turning your wrist in a half circle motion.

Clasp your left thumb in your right palm and rub in in a rotational motion from the tip of your fingers to the end of the thumb, then switch hands.

And finally scrub the inside of your right hand with your left fingers closed and the other hand.