Scientists Pinpoint a Simple Way to Help Us Start Anew

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 17, 2017 2:04 PM CDT

(Newser) – Looking for an easy way to clear your mind and refocus? Scientists say they've found a simple activity we should all be doing daily anyway that will help get us there: clean your hands. Researchers at the University of Toronto call it "reorienting one's priorities," and report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General that wiping our hands acts as a physical proxy for mentally separating ideas that are still kicking around in our heads. This allows us to refocus on a new goal. The researchers tested this by having participants focus on certain goals by taking a short survey or playing word games. Some participants were then asked to evaluate what they'd done, while others were asked to use a handwipe to clean their hands first.

Sure enough, those who cleaned their hands were less likely to think of the goal they'd been primed to focus on and less likely to find it important, reports Entrepreneur. But that's not inherently a good thing. "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," one of the researchers says. Still, UPI reports that the overall effect was helping people be susceptible to new ways of thinking, so when a re-set is required, it's a simple option to try. (When it comes to removing bacteria from our hands, how long we spend washing matters more than water temps.)

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