Your Hands' Signs
Only Work for Women: Study
Signs that remind people to wash their
hands after using public bathrooms tend to inspire women to boost
their hygiene, but fail to do so in men, new research suggests.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State
University found that public-bathroom signs that say "please wash
hands" caused women to more often use soap and water, but did
not change men's hand-washing behavior.
Dr. H. Durell Johnson and his colleagues
obtained their findings by sending men and women to secretly observe
people as they exited public restrooms on the campus of a large,
The results are based on observations
of 95 women and 80 men, half of which were conducted before the
researchers placed a sign in the bathroom reminding users to wash
Johnson and his team discovered
that women tended to use soap and water more often than men, before
and after the signs were posted.
After the signs were posted, women
opted less often for the ineffective strategy of hand rinsing--using
only water and no soap--and washed with soap more often.
But the signs had no effect on
men's tendencies to either wash or rinse their hands after using
the restroom, Johnson and his colleagues reported last week during
the Annual Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in
"Female hand rinsing went down
once the sign was placed, and their hand washing went up," Johnson
said in an interview with Reuters Health.
But men, he added, "relatively
stayed the same, regardless of the situation."
Johnson explained that simple signs
reminding people to wash their hands may be more effective in
women than in men because women have been taught from early in
life to accept and follow social norms.
Seeing a sign that tells them to
wash their hands may remind women that this is the socially accepted
behavior, he said.
In contrast, many men may have
been raised to be "more autonomous in their decision-making,"
to do what they want to do even if it goes against what is socially
acceptable, Johnson added.
"If it's something they want to
do, they're going to do it anyway," he said.
Johnson noted that the study likely
overestimates how often people washed their hands because the
participants knew someone else was in the restroom with them,
and may have washed their hands--or pretended to have done so
using hand rinsing--to avoid shame.
Consequently, some of the people
who simply ran their hands under water "might have just walked
out if somebody hadn't been there," Johnson said.
In restaurants, hospitals and other
organizations where hygiene is especially important, supervisors
looking to improve hand-washing rates among employees may want
to rely on a device that uses ultraviolet lights to measure bacteria
levels on the hands, Johnson suggested.
This technique may alert people
to the importance of hand washing "by showing them how dirty their
hands are after they use the bathroom and don't wash their hands,"
Signs that inform people of the
dangers of forgoing soap and water after using the restroom--rather
than simply telling them they should--could also boost hygiene,
the researcher added.
Reference Source 89