psychology washing hands

3 interesting psychological effects of washing your hands

We have been the house of lurgy since the start of the year.

And now we have a new addition to our list of ailments.  Rhys has impetigo.

So I spent yesterday washing all our towels on the hottest cycle possible and wiping the house down with antibac spray.

The thing with impetigo is it can spread really easily.  So now more than ever I’m trying to drum into Rhys how important it is for him to wash his hands.

And all this hand washing led me to a spot of internet research.

And it turns out, there’s more to washing our hands than just keeping them physically clean.

There are some really interesting psychological effects to handwashing.

3 interesting psychological effects of washing your hands (1)

1. Washing your hands can make you feel comfortable with your decisions.

We’ve all had those times when we make a decision, and then start to question whether we made the right choice or not.

Research carried out at the University of Michigan found that washing your hands straight after making a decision can put a stop to that doubt.  It’s as if washing your hands washes away any doubt that you might have made the wrong decision.

One of the researchers, Spike Lee, explains:

“Our studies show that washing your hands can symbolically “wipe away” these concerns… Once you washed your hands, you seem at ease with your decision and no longer need to do the mental work that makes the chosen alternative look much better than the rejected one.”

So next time you make a decision that you’re not 100% certain about, go and give your hands a wash to get rid of any last trace of that doubt.


2. It can change your luck.

Well, it can change how lucky you feel.  Think about how people on a winning streak often refuse to wash their ‘lucky’ socks, or shirt, or whatever.

They don’t want to wash away the luck by washing the item.  Well a study by Xu, Zwick and Schwarz in 2011 found that this idea translates to washing our hands too.

They set up a situation where people experienced ‘bad luck’ when gambling.  The people who washed their hands after this run of bad luck carried on betting afterwards as if they had forgotten all about their bad luck.

Those who didn’t wash their hands though, were more cautious with their future bets.

So if you want to move on from a spell of bad luck, try washing it away with soap and water.


3. Washing your hands can convince other people to do the same.

A public health study was carried out in 2009 that showed various messages to people as they went into public toilets.  There were messages like “don’t be a dirty soap dodger” and “water doesn’t kill germs, soap does”.

But the message that had the biggest effect was “Is the person next to you washing with soap?”.

Which makes sense when you think about it.

We so often are led by what other people are doing.  If we notice that another person in the toilet with us is washing their hands with soap, then we may well be more likely to do the same.

So I’ll be encouraging Rhys to wash his hands properly with soap by reminding him that this is what I do.  And by letting him see me wash my hands thoroughly as often as possible.

As for Nerys, she quite likes washing her hands anyway so doesn’t really need any encouragement!


So, there you have it.

Something to think about next time someone in your family is sick and you’re washing your hands for the thousandth time that day!



Mr and Mrs T Plus Three
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