Washing Our Hands of the Problem?

I would suggest that most people see the washing of hands to be a good thing. If you asked a room full of people whether they washed the hands thoroughly after using the toilet the vast majority, if not all, would say they did.

The real experience of using public toilets certainly leads me to feel that this does not translate into people’s behaviour, and recent research supports this. Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine swabbed 409 commuters at transport hubs in 5 major cities in England and Wales. The findings from this study suggest that faecal bacteria was present amongst an alarming proportion of those tested.

Town Males with faecal bacteria present Females with faecal bacteria present
Newcastle 53% 30%
Liverpool 36% 31%
Birmingham 21% 26%
Cardiff 15% 29%
London 6% 21%

These statistics seem to reflect my personal experience; that frequently people forget, or choose not, to wash their hands. Does this count as anti-social behaviour? People will remember the prevalence of the norovirus in the news last year, and hand-washing was postulated as one of the simplest ways to prevent transmission. The implications of not washing your hands seems to occur on an economic and social level as well as a personal one.

I have never chastised anyone for not washing their hands in public, perhaps I internally cringed slightly, but never outwardly. I guess the use of chastised is inappropriate. People tend to not respond well to being told off. This is especially true when they appear to have digressed a socially accepted norm. On a conscious level most people seem to think that washing hands thoroughly is a good thing, but unconsciously we like to defend our behaviour patterns as they are the outward displays of our personality. Equally sometimes people forget things that are a part of a frequently repeated routine.

So should I, should we intervene to interrupt these behaviour patterns, or should we just wash our hands of the responsibility? Having spent today thinking about it I think the best way may be to use some humour.

‘The sinks are over here mate!’ could be offered as helpful advice to someone heading in the wrong direction, moving to the exit without washing their hands.

Whether I feel comfortable doing this, I don’t know. If however, I develop a stomach bug after a long tube ride, I may not be able to hold myself back any longer.

 

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5 Comments

Filed under Science

5 responses to “Washing Our Hands of the Problem?

  1. Perhaps all toilet cubicles should be fitted with sinks, and locks that won’t open until the sinks have been used and drained. People can wash their hands, or be trapped forever!

    As for the norovirus last year, apparently the numbers affected were wildly overestimated.

  2. Well written this. I have noticed an alarming amount of people choosing not to wash their hands at Baker St tube station. Perhaps they are rushing to catch their over crowded tubes back? Perhaps London commuters are so used to being treated like animals…that they actually act like them now? Either way, the guy next to me on the train certainly smells like he’s in that 6% of men!

  3. undercoverpsychologist

    That is some creative thinking!

    Would you consider engaging in a cultural shift by intervening in such a situation. Is it too small to ‘create a fuss over’ or something we could have a simple and positive influence on.

    Also a very interesting link with regard to statistics being hijacked. A valuable reminder to treat any number you read in the news with a pinch of salt. This includes the figures in my table which I would repeat were only based on a study of 409 participants.

  4. undercoverpsychologist

    Thanks Tom http://walnuttreerecords.blogspot.com/

    To be honest I often frequent tube stations in London and I was surprised at the figure of 6%. I think perhaps the ones who are more likely to rush away from the sinks are also more likely to rush away from researchers with swabs!

  5. This is an excellent study that yields some rather disturbing results. The psychology of the problem is very interesting – people will admit that they do this because it is socially acceptable to do so, but they actually don’t for their own reasons. We just need to find a way to change this behavior now!

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