iD magazine

WHAT IS THE LADY MACBETH EFFECT?

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“Out, damned spot! Will these hands never be clean?” Shakespear­e recognized Lady Macbeth’s hand washing as a ritual meant to free her from feelings of guilt for inciting her husband to commit murder, although in truth this stain on her soul could never be washed away. And 1,600 years earlier, Pontius Pilate literally “washed his hands” of the guilt stemming from the death sentence imposed on Jesus. As part of their faith, Christians and Sikhs symbolical­ly wash away their sins, and Muslims practice wudu as a form of ritual purificati­on. Psychologi­sts call shame-related cleansing the Lady Macbeth effect.

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