Diseases often spread in hospitals because health care professionals fail to wash their hands. Research suggests that to increase health and safety behaviors, it is important to highlight the personal consequences for the actor. However, because people (and health care professionals in particular) tend to be overconfident about personal immunity, the most effective messages about hand hygiene may be those that highlight its consequences for other people. In two field experiments in a hospital, we compared the effectiveness of signs about hand hygiene that emphasized personal safety (“Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases”) or patient safety (“Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases”). We assessed hand hygiene by measuring the amount of soap and hand-sanitizing gel used from dispensers (Experiment 1) and conducting covert, independent observations of health care professionals’ hand-hygiene behaviors (Experiment 2). Results showed that changing a single word in messages motivated meaningful changes in behavior: The hand hygiene of health care professionals increased significantly when they were reminded of the implications for patients but not when they were reminded of the implications for themselves.
Grant, A. M., & Hofmann, D. A. (2011). It’s not all about me: Motivating hand hygiene among health care professionals by focusing on patients. Psychological science, 22(12), 1494-1499.