Journal of Applied Social Psychology

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A field study on watching eyes and hand hygiene compliance in a public restroom


Humans modify their behavior in a socially desirable way when being watched by others. We applied this basic idea to hand hygiene compliance, a behavior that is crucial for preventing germ transmission and successive infections in many settings. Building on the assumption that hand hygiene behavior is socially desirable, we assume that individuals show stronger hand hygiene compliance when being watched. In a field study in a women's public restroom (N = 354), we exposed individuals to a message advising that hand‐washing protects against the spread of pathogens. In the experimental condition, stylized human watching eyes were presented above the message. In the control condition, three stars were presented. Analysis revealed a significantly higher percentage of hand hygiene compliance in the watching eyes condition (83.3%) compared to the control condition (71.9%; odds ratio: 1.95, p = .01). The applied value for employers and public institutions is discussed.

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