Date of Submission

Spring 2022

Academic Program


Project Advisor 1

Justin Dainer-Best

Project Advisor 2

Richard Lopez

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Senior Project submitted to The Division of Science, Mathematics and Computing of Bard College.


Mental contamination is a concept that has gained empirical support over the last few years. Feelings of dirtiness have arisen from not only being the victim of unwanted contact, but also being the imagined perpetrator of it, which threatens one’s own morality. No studies have explored if moral transgressions alone can provoke feelings of mental contamination. The aim of this study is to explore if both physical contamination and moral transgressions can evoke symptoms of mental contamination. Additionally, the study tried to identify if a relationship between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) symptom severity and feelings of mental contamination existed. Participants read one of three vignettes: physical contact with a disgusting object, being the perpetrator of an immoral act, or a neutral walk around the neighborhood. Feelings of contamination were assessed at baseline and after reading the vignettes in an online sample of adults (N = 112). Use of neutralization strategies were reported to see if a non-clinical sample would counteract aversive material. The results indicated that physical contamination is more effective than moral transgression at evoking feelings of mental contamination. In addition, there was no relationship between OCD severity and greater feelings of mental contamination. Physical sensations such as cleanliness and dirtiness seemed to be more affected by the physical contamination condition while emotional states such as disgust were able to be influenced by a moral transgression. Additionally, it appears that mental contamination may not exclusively affect those who show greater intensity of OCD symptoms.

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