Motivating Hand Hygiene

Grant, A. M., & Hofman, D. A. (2011). It’s not all about me: Motivating hand hygiene among health care professionals by focusing on patients. Psychological Science, 22(12), 1494-1499.

Recent efforts to cut hospital infection rates have focused new attention on the hand washing behavior of health care professionals. Grant and Hofman (2011) suggested that lower than recommended rates of hand washing among these workers may be due to a sense of invulnerability to disease, since they are continually exposed to illness, but rarely become sick themselves. According to the authors, this invulnerability may explain why notices about hand washing that focus on the well-being of the health care professionals (“Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.”) are relatively ineffective. They hypothesized that messages focused on the well-being of the patients (“Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”) maybe more successful in increasing hand washing behavior. The effectiveness of each type of sign was assessed with two different measures of hand hygiene: (1) the percentage of soap and hand-sanitizing gel used from hospital dispensers, and (2) covert observations of heath care professionals’ behavior. Results for both measures of hand hygiene showed significantly greater compliance in the hospital units with signs emphasizing patient consequences than in units with signs emphasizing personal consequences.

Making Connections

Prosocial behavior
Social influence

Media Supplement

The Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota has examples of social hygiene posters from the 1920s.