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The reasons why some people don't wash their hands

TIME:2020-05-28 09:51:38 READ:141

At work, Dr Zerina Tomkins teaches nursing students about the importance of hand hygiene and proper sanitation.

She's very careful to make sure she's washing her hands properly to minimise the risk of infection.

But lately, she's noticed she isn't always as diligent when she comes home.

"Even though I'm working in the clinical setting … I actually had to put little notes on the entrance of my door, saying 'Remember to wash your hands'," she says.

"It's a reminder before I even got into my house that I need to do it."

Hand hygiene has become more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, but many of us still forget — or simply don't do it. We spoke to Dr Tomkins and social psychologist Dr Barbara Mullan to find out why.

How psychology plays into our handwashing decisions

We're unrealistically optimistic

We have a bias towards unrealistic optimism which has been long documented by psychologists.

It means we tend to underestimate the probability of bad things happening to us, like getting sick.

Barbara Mullan, an associate professor in psychology at Curtin University, says it affects how we see the risks around hand hygiene.

"There's a huge group of people we're seeing who are saying: '[Getting sick] will never happen to me. It will only happen to old people, it will only happen to frontline workers'," she says.

We downplay the risks from invisible germs

Unlike other threats to our health and safety, like a falling rock or a shark, germs are invisible — and it means we can underestimate their risk.

"There's a lot of research that shows that men really don't think it's an issue," Dr Mullan says.

"And, without being funny, that's partly because there's this belief that 'I'm a big strong man and how can these tiny germs I can't see make me sick?'"

In one study, researchers asked US college students about handwashing, and found that students were more likely to respond to messages that provoked disgust rather than those that highlighted health concerns.

"I don't really associate the germs on my hands with getting sick," one of the students commented. "I just don't think about the connection."

Knowledge about proper hand hygiene isn't enough to change behaviour

Like many of us, I've been washing my hands more than usual during the pandemic. And one reason is that I'm being constantly reminded about it.

Dr Mullan says there is a social aspect to handwashing: we tend to follow what others around us are doing. And these social cues can be more powerful than simply knowing about the risks of not washing your hands.

"Powerful others and peers and social influence is massive. A lot of what we do is because we want to please others."

Two things that can improve hand hygiene at home

Make handwashing a habit

When Dr Tomkins is teaching hand hygiene to nursing students at the University of Melbourne, she emphasises the importance of habit and routine.

And the reminders she is now using at home are similar to what her workplace uses. She's found them a good tool for teaching her four-year-old daughter, Emma.

Dr Zerina Tomkins and Emma hug in front of a sign on their door with a reminder to wash their hands.
Dr Tomkins has found a sign on the door has helped her and her daughter remember to wash.(Supplied)

"Because I've got a small child, we know to wash our hands together when we get home. That's how it starts off," she says.

"In the clinical setting, you have posters everywhere. And yet you don't have those things reminding you as you go from work to your car or entering home.

"People sometimes get really busy and if there's no routine there, it's highly unlikely you'll remember because you'll be interrupted 10 times."

You want washing your hands to be an automatic response, she says — one that you do even when there are other things on your mind.

Make an emotional connection

While a teenager might not be too worried about falling ill, they might change their behaviour if they were worried about their grandparents.

It's another good way to help people change their behaviours around handwashing, Dr Mullan says.

"If it's your parents, get your mum to think about your dad or vice versa," she says.

"If it's your teenagers, get them to think about grandparents. If it's grandparents, you can ask them to think about their grandchildren.

This kind of approach might not be appropriate for young children, who may then worry more than is helpful about loved ones getting sick.

Instead, you could try to make handwashing into a fun, interactive game.

The reasons why some people don't wash their hands

TIME:2020-05-28 09:51:38 READ:141

At work, Dr Zerina Tomkins teaches nursing students about the importance of hand hygiene and proper sanitation.

She's very careful to make sure she's washing her hands properly to minimise the risk of infection.

But lately, she's noticed she isn't always as diligent when she comes home.

"Even though I'm working in the clinical setting … I actually had to put little notes on the entrance of my door, saying 'Remember to wash your hands'," she says.

"It's a reminder before I even got into my house that I need to do it."

Hand hygiene has become more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, but many of us still forget — or simply don't do it. We spoke to Dr Tomkins and social psychologist Dr Barbara Mullan to find out why.

How psychology plays into our handwashing decisions

We're unrealistically optimistic

We have a bias towards unrealistic optimism which has been long documented by psychologists.

It means we tend to underestimate the probability of bad things happening to us, like getting sick.

Barbara Mullan, an associate professor in psychology at Curtin University, says it affects how we see the risks around hand hygiene.

"There's a huge group of people we're seeing who are saying: '[Getting sick] will never happen to me. It will only happen to old people, it will only happen to frontline workers'," she says.

We downplay the risks from invisible germs

Unlike other threats to our health and safety, like a falling rock or a shark, germs are invisible — and it means we can underestimate their risk.

"There's a lot of research that shows that men really don't think it's an issue," Dr Mullan says.

"And, without being funny, that's partly because there's this belief that 'I'm a big strong man and how can these tiny germs I can't see make me sick?'"

In one study, researchers asked US college students about handwashing, and found that students were more likely to respond to messages that provoked disgust rather than those that highlighted health concerns.

"I don't really associate the germs on my hands with getting sick," one of the students commented. "I just don't think about the connection."

Knowledge about proper hand hygiene isn't enough to change behaviour

Like many of us, I've been washing my hands more than usual during the pandemic. And one reason is that I'm being constantly reminded about it.

Dr Mullan says there is a social aspect to handwashing: we tend to follow what others around us are doing. And these social cues can be more powerful than simply knowing about the risks of not washing your hands.

"Powerful others and peers and social influence is massive. A lot of what we do is because we want to please others."

Two things that can improve hand hygiene at home

Make handwashing a habit

When Dr Tomkins is teaching hand hygiene to nursing students at the University of Melbourne, she emphasises the importance of habit and routine.

And the reminders she is now using at home are similar to what her workplace uses. She's found them a good tool for teaching her four-year-old daughter, Emma.

Dr Zerina Tomkins and Emma hug in front of a sign on their door with a reminder to wash their hands.
Dr Tomkins has found a sign on the door has helped her and her daughter remember to wash.(Supplied)

"Because I've got a small child, we know to wash our hands together when we get home. That's how it starts off," she says.

"In the clinical setting, you have posters everywhere. And yet you don't have those things reminding you as you go from work to your car or entering home.

"People sometimes get really busy and if there's no routine there, it's highly unlikely you'll remember because you'll be interrupted 10 times."

You want washing your hands to be an automatic response, she says — one that you do even when there are other things on your mind.

Make an emotional connection

While a teenager might not be too worried about falling ill, they might change their behaviour if they were worried about their grandparents.

It's another good way to help people change their behaviours around handwashing, Dr Mullan says.

"If it's your parents, get your mum to think about your dad or vice versa," she says.

"If it's your teenagers, get them to think about grandparents. If it's grandparents, you can ask them to think about their grandchildren.

This kind of approach might not be appropriate for young children, who may then worry more than is helpful about loved ones getting sick.

Instead, you could try to make handwashing into a fun, interactive game.

Tel:

03 85551111/03 85554666

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Email us: info@aussos.com




Tel:03 85551111/03 85554666

Add:F17/2A Westall Road,Clayton,VIC 3168

Email us:info@aussos.com