University of Surrey

Test tubes in the lab Research in the ATI Dance Research

Does modifying personal responsibility moderate the mental contamination effect?

Kennedy, TS and Simonds, Laura (2017) Does modifying personal responsibility moderate the mental contamination effect? Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 57. pp. 198-205.

Kennedy Simonds 2017 accepted manuscript.pdf

Download (456kB) | Preview


Background and objectives

Mental contamination is the psychological sense of internal dirtiness that arises in the absence of physical contact with a perceived contaminant. Mental contamination can be evoked through imagining perpetrating a moral transgression. This study experimentally evoked mental contamination by asking men to imagine perpetrating a non-consensual kiss. It explored whether reducing sense of personal responsibility for the kiss moderated the mental contamination effect.


Male students (N = 60) imagined giving either a consensual or non-consensual kiss. Personal responsibility for the kiss was manipulated in one of two non-consensual kiss conditions by way of the inclusion of social influence information. Feelings of mental contamination were assessed by self-report and through a behavioural index.


Mental contamination was successfully induced in the two non-consensual kiss conditions. There was evidence to support the hypothesis that reducing personal responsibility might moderate specific components of mental contamination (shame, dirtiness and urge to cleanse). The effect of responsibility modification was evident in the self-report measures, but not in the behavioural index.


The sample comprised male university students which limits generalizability of the findings. The behavioural assessment of mental contamination was limited to a proxy measure.


Imagined moral violations are associated with increases in indices of mental contamination. Further research should investigate whether feelings of shame, dirtiness and urge to cleanse are particularly responsive to responsibility modifications.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences > School of Psychology
Authors :
Kennedy, TS
Date : 24 June 2017
DOI : 10.1016/j.jbtep.2017.06.004
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2017. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Uncontrolled Keywords : Mental contamination; Perpetrators; Morality; Responsibility
Depositing User : Melanie Hughes
Date Deposited : 27 Jun 2017 15:54
Last Modified : 24 Dec 2018 02:08

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

Information about this web site

© The University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, United Kingdom.
+44 (0)1483 300800