The Macbeth Effect

In Shakespeare’s renowned play Lady Macbeth was the wife of Scottish nobleman and the antagonist of the drama who came to be known as Macbeth. After prodding her husband in committing the murder of the King, as next to the line of succession, she was hailed the Queen of Scotland.

Due to her involvement in the regicide resulting to her guilt that lies beneath, she experiences sleepwalking and could imagine bloodstains in her hands and impulsively washes them. This psychosomatic sensation, called the Macbeth effect, links to an embodied cognition.

Reports of excessive hygienic behavior, through cleansing body parts over past misdeeds, have rattled the field of Psychology in wonder as to how much influence the brain can contribute in manipulating the body itself.

Research indicates that, to some people, hand-washing can appease the guilt of past wrongdoings. Being said, all of which is a new idea about embodies cognition asserting that, if the mind controls the body, the body could also control the mind.

Going away from ethics, a German study also found out in a tactile-related experiment to which the subjects were instructed to read an ambivalent conversation. Subjects who touch rough surfaces tend to assume that the conversation they were reading was accusatorial and harsh compared to the subjects touching a smooth surface. And a 2010 Science study that employers opt to rate job applicants much higher when their résumé was attached to heavier clipboard rather that light.

Fascinatingly, the Macbeth effect refers to the ties between physical cleansing and moral purity. Connections of morality and cleanliness have been made before; e.g., “cleanliness is next to godliness” adage. As a social construct, it implies a connection between divinity, utility, and appropriateness.

The brain has an atlas of the entire body. Every limb or body part is linked to a certain portion of the brain called somatosensory cortex. Remarkably, in a study, the activity of somatosensory cortex intensifies after a lie has been done. After MRI scan, the part associated with the mouth, the cortical area of the somatosensory cortex became much active.

In the case of deceivers, liars may brush their teeth or wash their mouth at the hopes of masking their untruths. Like in previous studies, after the participants were asked to lie about their colleagues, they tend to rate hygiene products much higher.

Furthermore, the researchers of this study also found out that the “dirty” body parts – the part where they committed some form of deceit – are much desirable to wash that the “honest” parts.

Whatever the case may be, there could be more Shakespearean-inspired psychological phenomenon out there aside from the Macbeth. But bear in mind, lying could be a face-saving maneuver or cheating might be an easy overtake yet guilt is there to remind us what has been done wrong and, in this case, the pangs of Macbeth effect.