Can anxiety make you clean more?

Photo credit: http://www.newcf.net/labor-services/cleaning-services/

Photo credit: http://www.newcf.net/labor-services/cleaning-services/

Mental Floss (one of our favorite websites) highlights a new study which has a finding that is enough to make the most OCD amongst us stress out...anxiety can make you clean more!

According to the article, anthropologists created an experiment in which students were assigned to either:

  • A treatment group which was asked to give a speech about a gold statue to a panel
  • A control group which did not have to give a speech at all

Both groups were then asked to clean the gold statue.  

Based on the article, the finding is that those who were under stress of speaking cleaned the statue more intensely.

As an everydata consumer, a few questions to think about--

1. How large was the sample of students, and how were they assigned to the "give a speech group" and the non-give a speech group?  Both the size of the sample and how students were assigned could affect the results.

2. How representative is a population of Czech Republic students included in the study?  Whether the results can be meaningfully extended to a broader group hinges on the answer to this question. We talk about this extensively in our book - including the finding that two-
thirds of the American studies that were published in one psychology journal used undergrad psychology students as samples.

3. How is "anxiety" measured and what do self-reports of anxiety mean?  Are they highly correlated with the types of OCD behavior which might lead to excessive cleaning?  In other words, if someone is suffering from OCD, are they more likely to rank themselves as highly anxious and could that be the cause of the excessive cleaning?

4. Finally,  how is "cleanliness" measured?  It appears that the researchers used some interesting motion capturing technology to measure repetitive movements.

Is it possible that there's a link between anxiety and cleanliness? Of course. But when you see these types of studies, take a minute to dig a bit deeper, and see what the data really says.