Hand Washing Habits
Hand Washing Habits

How the Hawthorne Effect Affects Your Hand Washing Habits

19 November 2020

The Hawthorne Effect (HE) asserts that people change their behavior when they know they are being observed. Also called the “observer effect”, the HE has important implications in healthcare, where, it has been shown by studies that, medical workers in the normal setting have a tendency to show inadequate compliance in terms of handwashing. 

But HE can improve this inadequacy. In a study, healthcare participants when being observed increased in hand hygiene performance by about 30%. In another study, the same amount of improvement was observed when hand sanitizers are placed where an observer can see these products displayed within his eyeshot. 

HE is a well-documented aspect of people’s behavior. Can we use it to find smart ways to get us to do the right thing, and then continue to do the right thing even when there is no one watching us? 

If HE is implemented in our daily lives, would it achieve the same observable effect, for hand hygiene in particular? That’s the question we are trying to answer. 

Hawthorne Effect in Children 
One way of encouraging your children to wash their hands is by washing your own. So, aside from the Hawthorne Effect that parents can apply in teaching their kids, another strategy is by modelling. Your kids will learn directly from you, so make sure to be a good hand-hygiene model. 

This is very important, especially among young children that attend day care centres. It was found that these children experience more gastrointestinal and respiratory infections than children taken care of in their homes. Thus, for parents of these kids, it is important to work hand in hand with their children’s caregivers so that these children are stimulated to exercise proper hand hygiene both at home and in school. 

On the side of HE, experts observe that children’s behavior improves when their parents are watching. Research has proven that the tendency to change behavior when under observation remains even as people age. So, people can actually take advantage of HE to change for the better any time in their life. How can this be implemented; in particular, in hand hygiene? 

Hawthorne Effect Applications
The suggested ways here can be employed whatever the setting is – workplace, home, sports training, job interviews, and what not. 

First, you can use the idea of continuous monitoring. It means that you’re giving your children undivided and continuous attention to check if they are following the rules (and rewarding/praising them for compliance). After all, children like the idea that they can make their parents happy and proud of them. 

Another idea is accountability partners. Think of your child as your partner to work together in reaching some important goals. So, you talk to your child about both of you working together to achieve hand-hygiene goals. 

Record the times that hand washing was conducted in key times – after going to the toilet, before eating, after playing, and so on. Remember, you as a parent need to be checked and rated, too.  At the end of the day, review for success and also for failure on both sides. 

Conclusion
In conclusion, let’s modify the title a bit. Instead of how HE affects your hand washing, we can change it to “what are the ways to apply HE in improving hand hygiene compliance?” The answer to the first question, as shown by research, is: HE has positive effects. Compliance is improved. Here in this post, some of the ways to apply HE in handwashing compliance were also discussed.