From Tang et al.

The association between moral purity and physical cleanliness has been widely discussed recently. Studies found that moral threat initiates the need of physical cleanliness, but actual physical cleaning and priming of cleaning have inconsistent effects on subsequent attitudes and behaviors. Here, we used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore the underlying neural mechanism of actual physical cleaning and priming of cleaning. After recalling moral transgression with strong feelings of guilt and shame, participants either actually cleaned their faces with a wipe or were primed with cleanliness through viewing its pictures. Results showed that actual physical cleaning reduced the spontaneous brain activities in the right insula and MPFC, regions that involved in embodied moral emotion processing, while priming of cleaning decreased activities in the right superior frontal gyrus and middle frontal gyrus, regions that participated in executive control processing. Additionally, actual physical cleaning also changed functional connectivity between insula/MPFC and emotion related regions, whereas priming of cleaning modified connectivity within both moral and sensorimotor areas. These findings revealed that actual physical cleaning and priming of cleaning led to changes in different brain regions and networks, providing neural evidence for the inconsistent effects of cleanliness on subsequent attitudes and behaviors.

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