Shock and shame: How to increase handwashing compliance

A British study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded that people are more likely to wash their hands properly after using the toilet if they are shamed into it or think they are being watched.

As part of a flood of handwashing information for today’s World Handwashing Day, the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health found that with no reminders, 32 percent of men and 64 percent of women used soap.

The observational study reported on the behavior of people using toilets at motorway service stations in Britain over 32 days.

When prompted by an electronic message flashing up on a board asking: "Is the person next to you washing with soap?," around 12 percent more men and 11 percent more women used soap.

Other messages flashed on the electronic boards included:

• Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does; and,
• Don’t be a dirty soap dodger.

The message that produced the strongest positive response was: "Is the person next to you washing with soap?"

The researchers also noted "intriguing differences" in the behavior of men and women: While women responded to simple reminders, men tended to react best to messages that invoked disgust, such as:

• Don’t take the loo with you — wash with soap, and
• Soap it off or eat it later.

I like the last one.

We’ve undertaken both shock and shame attempts at handwashing messages (below). Results pending.