Psychological Science Reports Boost in Workers’ Hand Sanitizer Usage by Introducing a Decoy

Psychological Science’s new study suggests that worker hand sanitization may be increased by using a decoy product. The study suggests that introducing a less convenient option can increase sanitary conditions.

Employees in food factories were studied to determine if they were more inclined to use the hand sanitzers, soap and other cleansers for their hands when a decoy was offered. The decoy was found to guide the person’s behavior.

Previous research seems to correlate with the new findings, as the “decoy effect” is such that the decoy, which is often an inferior product, encourages employees to use preexisting options that are already in place.

Decoys, in this case, were found to improve hand sanitization and employee hands that were studied were also cleaner after the decoy was planted.

The study included 163 participants that worked in three factories in China. The workers were allowed to go about their daily routines for 20 days without any intervention. Researchers observed the participants’ hand hygiene during this time.

Colleagues that were in the experimental group were offered inferior hand-sanitizing options over a 20-day period.

Sanitizer spray bottles, which are designed to be used hourly in the factories, were routinely below optimal levels. Researchers placed a new, more difficult-to-use bottle in one factory right alongside the regular bottle that workers routinely failed to use.

Another factory was given the option to use a wash basin rather than a spray bottle to sanitize their hands. The method, while just as effective, takes longer and is less convenient for the employees.

The third factory followed the same guidelines as the first factory, but a spray bottle in a different color was provided.

Workers’ hands were swabbed daily along with their work tables daily. The procedure is already common in factories, and the results found that two of the factories noticed increased usage of the original hand sanitizer over the 20-day period.

The decoy sanitizer improved cleanliness in the factories.

Pass rates, gathered during the baseline period, found that hand swabs had a pass rate of 70% to 74% for all experimental groups in the three factories. The pass rates rose dramatically with the presence of a decoy, rising to 92% – 98% for the experimental group.

Control groups that were also present but did not contain a decoy noticed no difference in pass rate during the 20-day period.

Work table swab tests were also similarly impacted, with much higher pass rates. Management in one of the factories was so impressed after the test that they decided to implement decoys for all workers.

The research will be used to find better ways to increase hand hygiene in the workplace. Future studies will focus on ways to increase hygiene in areas where poor hygiene practices remain very high.

Data for the project has been provided on the Open Science Framework.

Hand hygiene has been shown to reduce the risk of passing harmful bacteria and allergens to foods. Proper hand hygiene can also reduce the risk of spreading germs and sickness in the workplace.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.