Handwashing and Habit Formation

This project addresses poor hand hygiene, a leading driver of child mortality via bacterial and viral contamination and resulting diarrhea and acute respiratory infection. Public health campaigns focused on handwashing with soap have consistently failed to generate long term behavioral change, despite the effectiveness of the practice in clinical studies in improving health. In collaboration with the MIT Media Lab, researchers have developed an innovative measurement tool for handwashing that generates the precise data and feedback loop required to study and nurture systematic behavioral change via the habit loop; the project then employs this device across a large sample of households and nursery schools along with a series of incentive-driven interventions intended to generate sustained habit formation. 

This pilot study will take place in West Bengal, India. The study intervention will target mothers and children below age five directly in their homes and through government-funded nurseries. The pilot study will randomize households into one of four treatment arms: 1) handwashing with soap and information, 2) treatment 1 plus monitoring, 3) treatment 2 plus incentives, and 4) treatment 3 plus self-commitment. Each treatment will be cross-randomized with a reminder treatment via text message. Immediate outcomes include frequency and timing of handwashing; long term outcomes include changes in household valuation for soap and detailed child-level health measures. 

RFP Cycle:
Spring 2014
  • Reshmaan Hussam
  • Atonu Rabbani
  • Giovanni Reggiani
  • Natalie Rigol
  • Pilot project