Study finds cleanliness improves moral judgement and productivity

Destinee Mondragon
Staff Writer

Zhen Zhang, associate professor of management, presented her studies and experiments on the relationship between cleanliness and moral judgement on Tuesday via WebEx.  

During the lecture, titled “Does Workplace Environment Cleanliness as Same as Self-Physical Cleanliness Affect Moral Judgment? Embodiment Factors of Counterproductive Behavior,” Zhang said her experiments proved there was a connection between cleanliness and moral judgement.

This idea of purity and cleanliness linked into the three experiments Zhang conducted on a large state-owned manufacturing company in China. The participants were employees of the company and its purpose was to investigate the relationship between workplace environment cleanliness and work behavior, or productivity. The study was split into three groups that surveyed whether a clean workplace leads to harsher moral judgement, if cleaning hands lead to harsher moral judgement on counterproductive work behavior, and if cleaning the face leads to harsher moral judgment on counterproductive work behavior.

“The data collected from the study concluded that the workplace cleanliness does have an important antecedent of moral judgement, but face-cleaning did have a larger impact on moral judgement than hand washing,” Zhang said. 

Zhang said that cleanliness could mean multiple things and that interaction influences the nature of the cognitive process. This ultimately means that one’s physical body plays a huge role in cognitive processes.

“The way people stay clean … ultimately ties all together to moral judgement,” Zhang said.

After Zhang’s presentation, Professor of Public Administration Matthew Witt opened up the discussion with his thoughts on the correlation between moral judgment and cleanliness.

“The research and intellectual depth of how far you went in such a small study truly shows how far we can really take this idea,” Witt said. 

Zhang said she conducted her study years ago, and added that is has become  relevant again with the emergence of the COVID-19.

“I was very drawn to the idea of cleanliness and how it becomes a part of a productive mindset,” said Ngoc Bui, professor of psychology and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Zhang said that she hopes to be able to build upon her study with more social behavioral studies in the future.

Destinee Mondragon can be reached at

Destinee Mondragon

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