The field of medicine has understood the importance of hand washing for almost 200 years. The Hungarian Ignaz Semmelweis found that when people in an obstetric clinic washed their hands, incidence of infections plummeted. These days, hospitals have signs all over that remind patients and staff to wash their hands at every opportunity.
The fact that you need signs, though, suggests that not everyone is washing their hands all the time.
What kinds of signs are likely to be most effective?
Lots of research on persuasion suggests that a good message is one that requires people to take individual responsibility for their own personal consequences. A paper by Adam Grant and David Hoffmann in the December 2011 issue of Psychological Science, suggests that for health professionals it may be better to focus the message on consequences for patients.
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