Did You Pass on the Soap After Using the Loo?

October 20, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR (b)lines) - 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, according to a new study.

A British study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published in the American Journal of Public Health to mark Global Hand-washing Day, showed that with no reminders, 32% of men and 64% of women used soap, according to Reuters. However, when prompted by an electronic message flashing up on a board around 12% more men and 11% more women used soap.

Reuters reports that the researchers studied the behavior of a quarter of a million people using toilets at motorway service stations in Britain over 32 days. Use of soap was monitored by sensors. The researchers then flashed a series of electronic messages, ranging from “Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does” to “Don’t be a dirty soap dodger,” onto screens at the entrance of the toilets and measured how behavior changed.

The message that produced the strongest positive response was: “Is the person next to you washing with soap?” – showing that people respond more when they think others were watching.

The researchers also noted 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,” or “Soap it off or eat it later.”

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