Feb 8, 2011

Handwashing Behavior - Or: Should I take the Peanuts?

particles on the skinMinuscule particles between dermal ridges in the hand, hardly seen by the naked eye. via wikipediaI don't think I am obsessed with personal hygiene, although, I am averse to certain behaviors, such as when you pick your nose next to me and then flip your snot in my direction, or when you reach out to touch me after having been touching dirty things on the street. What sometimes sets me off is seeing people exit the bathroom without washing their hands. I was also surprised, that when toilets featured shared faucets, to see this frequently with women (or should I say rather, not to see it). Now what about the peanuts in the bar? The guy, who just grabbed 10 more peanuts than his hand could hold and let half of them fall back into the bowl, what did he touch before? Should you really eat any of the peanuts? How many people wash their hands anyways?

In 1847 Ignaz Semmelweis showed that hand washing of midwives helped to reduce significantly mortality rate of childbed fever, from aroud 10 percent to around 1 percent, although at the time, he became rather unpopular for it. In 1890, Robert Koch demonstrated that anthrax was caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and provided evidence for Pasteur's germ theory. Despite the implications for hygiene being so clear, it is again a case of theory against practice as case studies show.

Results from studies on hand washing behavior vary, debited in part to experimental protocol. Amanda Stinson concluded in her article "Hand washing behavior of women in public bathrooms", that due to an increased self-awareness, subjects were more likely to wash their hands when someone else was present washing their hands. Stinson distinguished between three conditions in her study on hand washing behavior of women:
  1. No observer was visible
  2. A person is talking on the cell phone next to the faucet
  3. A person is washing her hands

She found that overall only 40 percent of young women washed their hands. In the hand washing condition (3), the subjects were more likely to wash their hands, 56 percent, while in the cell phone condition (2), subjects were less likely to wash their hands 27 percent. Stinson also found a strong and highly significant negative correlation between the time of night and whether or not the subject washed her hands.

In some studies it is not very clear whether the social factor mentioned above was taken into account so it is difficult to compare data over different studies. It also becomes clear from another study (see below), that age and education could be correlated variables. I therefore mention only one more study to compare men and women's hand washing behavior.

In the study "Gender and ethnic differences in hand hygiene practices among college students" by Anderson and colleagues it is not completely clear how they observe people in restrooms, however they make no mention of controlling the social variable and I would speculate that the difference from the results above could be explained in terms of social pressure.

What they found is that men washed their hands in 38 percent of cases and women in 62 percent,hand hygiene in females would be better than in males. In the discussion, Anderson and colleagues reference earlier similar evidence. They provide the argument that females' higher compliance could be associated with their tendency to practice socially acceptable behaviors. This however would also mean that having somebody watch you in the bathroom would have a stronger effect on women than on men, so that the question of who is more hygienic, men or women, cannot be answered conclusively.

Interestingly, Anderson and colleagues found that the minority students exhibited better hand hygiene practices than the Caucasian students. Comparing other studies they find that hand washing behavior in this college student population was only slightly higher than in populations of middle school and high school students. As for adequacy of hygiene, they report that only a small proportion of those who washed their hands did so for 20 seconds.

To come back to the original question: should I take the peanuts? I think that's a question of priority: just how hungry are you?

Enjoy those peanuts. At least as long as you can. Please leave a comment below for questions and suggestions. If you liked this article you might also want to read about the speed of nail growth.


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  2. This is a good wake up call to make it a habit to wash hands regularly. Washing of hands frequently or right after a dirty activity can actually help prevent a lot of disease, it is prevention.

  3. its interesting that only a small portion of hand washers actually wash their hands for 20 seconds -- so I guess its still doesn't count as hand washing or does it? by the way, how about the statistics of people who prefer to use alcohol disinfectant / antiseptic instead of soap -- where they included in the statistics too?

  4. i always tough that hygiene practice is important, good information on your article to remind me

  5. A very informative share! I appreciate!

  6. Is that from too much soap?:D

  7. Children need to be taught the value of hygiene in the beginning in order that it turns into a habit. Children are essentially the most at risk of hygiene-related disorders like skin issues, rashes, infections, wounds, etc. Teach them at the beginning by what to avoid.

  8. As outlined by 2007 hand washing survey, Harris Interactive, only seventy seven percent of those actually wash their hands as soon as they employ a public restroom. Males are more likely to skip washing hands after with a toilet than women.

  9. Well, I don't mind about those hand washings. I don't know, since in our area, we don't usually think of those things first, we think of where to find food. Washing and cleanliness for poor people will be second hand.,

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    Well, I don't mind about those hand washings. I don't know, since in our area, we don't usually think of those things first, we think of where to find food. Washing and cleanliness for poor people will be second hand.,

  11. It is true, that in the cell phone condition very few people actually are ready to wash their hands...they are too busy talking 2 realize it. Hand washing for the sake of hygiene is very good, but when it becomes an obsession, it might turn out to be really very harmful....and medically this condition is termed as 'mania'

  12. You should read Tess Gerritsens "Bone Garden". Very interesting read. It mostly featured the medical problems hospitals used to face and how med students struggled to go by their goal to become doctors. It also highlights what/how pregnant women before face after child birth. Its also a very heart warming story, a combination of romance, suspense, and fiction. But I gotta warn you: its pretty gory. One of the students who Gerritsen featured there was Oliver Wendell Holmes. As of what I've read, he picked up Ignaz Semmelweis theory. Though Semmelweis was rediculed Holmes managed to spread this discovery throughout.

  13.  Good article. Like reading it. Thanks for sharing.

  14. We have to teach our kids this behaviour. This is going to keep them healthy.

  15. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone washed their hands after visiting the bathroom but the fact is they don't.  I'd leave the peanuts - they're only there to make you buy more drinks anyway! :)

  16. kay I agreed on it. It an inspirational storyline. They shows how drastic if you witness the mom who will give birth. Not that too easy even the doctors would encountered such a hilarious on the hospital areas. I'd learned from your site. You can get good learning and insight on it. Thanks!


  17. It's too easy to become obsessed by personal hygene. If your immune system is operating as it should be you should just get on with your life.

  18. I've been in a stall when someone's used the stall next to me, done their business and gone out with minimal wiping and *no* handwashing! Awful ... I was using tissues to touch anything their hands may have come into contact with. Weren't these people ever taught how to use a toilet properly?

  19. Incredible_Eye_CareOctober 3, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    I also take special care of hygiene, i am not overly finicky but yes, i do like to live and stay clean so that no one should worry about that i am causing them trouble..

  20. This is something that bother me as well.  There is a bar i go to if they have stuff like peanuts you get your own personal bowl, that way you only need to worry about yourself, and whomever you are with.

  21. Should I take peanuts?
    My answer is it depends upon whom I am eating with in the same bowl. I am not obsessed with cleanliness because I believe I have a strong immunity system.

    On super dirty you will not die, on super clean you will die. I'm not OCD. Some bacterias are good. :D

  22. I am not obsessed with hygiene, but I make a point of using a paper towel to open the door when leaving a public washroom (especially at malls and airports)... although 90% of the time I miss when I basketball-style throw it towards the trash :P

  23. Actually it is better if every time, I mean according  to the some article that i read  hand is the dirtiest part of the body. We used to hold many things and still not aware that it carries lots of bacteria.

  24. Idk.  I always wash my hands.  You never know whats lurking in the bathrooms.

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