Have you ever found yourself scrubbing your kitchen floor before the in-laws come to visit for a week? Well it turns out there’s a reason. The journal Current Biology just released a new report that documented a link between short term / temporary anxiety and obsessive cleaning.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut, led by anthropologist Martin Lang, wanted to understand how people reacted when anxious. To see what happens, they divided students from Masaryk University, in the Czech Republic, into two groups. The students in the first group were given a shiny statue told they had to stand in front of a large group and give a speech on it (having them give a speech was a way to induce anxiety as public speaking is one of people’s biggest fears). After the speech, they were then asked to polish up the statue until they thought it was clean.
The second group was also given the same statue but did not have to present. Compared to the second group, the stressed students in the first group were much more repetitive in what they cleaned. The task showed that people who were more stressed cleaned the statue much more thoroughly before they were happy with their level of cleanliness.
The researchers believe that in times of high stress and anxiety, people default to repetitives behaviors (like cleaning) because it gives them a sense of control during a chaotic period. This could explain why other repetitive activities like biting nails or pacing back and forth is common before big pressure events.
So if you ever want to get someone to clean up, put a little pressure or fear in them