COVID-19 - Coronavirus disease 2019

Handwashing as a behavioral challenge in the fight against Covid-19 – BEHAVIRAL

Submission summary

The goal of this proposal is not to find a vaccine, it isn’t to find a treatment either. The goal of this proposal is to learn how to deal with an epidemic in the absence of vaccines and treatment. In such circumstances, the only lever that is left for policy makers is to act on citizens’ behavior. Here, we focus on one particularly crucial behavior: handwashing. Handwashing is a universally acknowledged way of slowing the spread of pathogens, including Covid-19, but injunctions to wash hands are often met with a shrug. The goal of this proposal is to identify behavioral and cognitive obstacles hindering the adoption of healthy handwashing habits. Based on these insights, we will design messages tapping the most promising psychological levers. We will then launch online testing experiments to test the efficacy of various messages on self-reported handwashing intentions and other outcomes of interest. This will put us in a position to launch a large-scale field experiment in 300 schools in the Académie de Versailles, who has agreed to partner with us on this project. Amplifying the national conversation about handwashing is especially timely in the current context, as research has shown that timing sanitary interventions when health issues are salient increases the probability of behavioral shifts. Beyond the present crisis, improving handwashing practices is an important challenge for educators and healthcare professionals. Therefore, the lessons drawn from the current project will be widely applicable both in response to the current crisis and for the future.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Institut Jean-Nicod

Help of the ANR 164,500 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: April 2020 - 18 Months

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