Ash Wednesday marks a day of sacrifice and penance for Christians in order to atone for sins. The theology of the idea coincides nicely with psychology. Feeling pain, it seems, really cleanses the mind of guilty burdens, according to a new study.
Australian researchers tested the idea of whether pain and sacrifice ease guilt. They recruited 62 young men and women under the guise that they were part of a study on mental and physical acuity. The participants were asked to write a short essay about a time when they had ostracized someone. A control group of participants wrote about a routine event. Some of the participants were then asked to stick a hand in a bucket of ice water and hold it there for as long as possible while the other half of the subjects were asked to hold a hand in warm water. All the participants then rated the pain they had just experienced and completed a questionnaire on their emotions -- including guilt.