Ig® & Beyond: Guilt Washing, and a Messy Retraction

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(Image credit: Angelsharum)

Some further research adventures of Ig Nobel Prize winners
compiled by Nan Swift, Improbable Research staff

Bègue and Bushman: Washing Away the Guilt
The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize for Psychology was awarded to Laurent Bègue, Brad Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, and Medhi Ourabah, for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive. [REFERENCE: “Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive,” Laurent Bègue, Brad J. Bushman, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, and Medhi Ourabah, British Journal of Psychology, vol. 104, no. 2, May 2013, pp. 225–234.]

In this later study, Bègue and Bushman and others explore the territory made famous by Shakespeare’s fictional characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

“Washing the Guilt Away: Effects of Personal Versus Vicarious Cleansing on Guilty Feelings and Prosocial Behavior,” Hanyi Xu, Laurent Bègue and Brad Bushman, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 8, no. 97, 2014. The authors note {or similar intro text}:

For centuries people have washed away their guilt by washing their hands. Do people need to wash their own hands, or is it enough to watch other people wash their hands? To induce guilt, we had participants write about a past wrong they had committed. Next, they washed their hands, watched a washing-hands video, or watched a typing-hands video. After the study was over, participants could help a Ph.D. student complete her dissertation by taking some questionnaires home and returning them within 3 weeks. Results showed that guilt and helping behavior were lowest among participants who washed their hands, followed by participants who watched a washing-hands video, followed by participants who watched a typing-hands video. Guilt mediated the effects of cleansing on helping.

These findings suggest that washing one’s own hands, or even watching someone else wash their hands, can wash away one’s guilt and lead to more helpful behavior.

Trampe: Messy, and Simply Retracted
The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for Psychology was awarded to Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe, and Luk Warlop, and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman, Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things—but worse decisions about other kinds of things—when they have a strong urge to urinate. [REFERENCE: “Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains,” Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe, and Luk Warlop, Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 5, May 2011, pp. 627-633. REFERENCE: “The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults,” Matthew S. Lewis, Peter J. Snyder, Robert H. Pietrzak, David Darby, Robert A. Feldman, and Paul T. Maruff, Neurology and Urodynamics, vol. 30, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 183-187.]

A later paper by Trampe, on a different subject -messiness- itself eventually underwent a somewhat messy procedure. The most noted co-author of that paper, Dirk Smeesters, was the subject of intensive investigations for research fraud on numerous papers. Smeesters’s adventures had the unfortunate effect of disrupting the lives of many younger colleagues who had been co-authors of one or more of those papers:

“RETRACTION: Effects of Messiness on Preferences for Simplicity,” Jia (Elke) Liu, Dirk Smeesters, and Debra Trampe, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 39, no. 1, June 2012, pp. 199-214. (Thanks to Ig Nobel winner Rolf Zwaan for bringing this to our attention. NOTE: Baba Shiv, co-winner of the 2008 Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine, served as an editor on the retracted paper.)


This article is republished with permission from the July-August 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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