Hillary Shulman, North Central College assistant professor of speech communication, and three other researchers published findings of their work in the January 2013 issue of the journal Human Communication Research and received wide online attention about their findings.
Their journal article, titled “Testing the Effects of Social Norms and Behavioral Privacy on Hand Washing: A Field Experiment,” focused on two field experiments about male hand washing and their findings that specialized messages increased the likelihood and quality of male hand washing.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 77 percent of males wash their hands when leaving the restroom. According to field research by Shulman and her co-authors, the percentage increased to 86 when the men were primed with messages in bathrooms.
The field experiments included college-aged men at Michigan State University who were surveyed and self-reported washing their hands 75 percent of the time. The researchers then conducted a field experiment where signs were posted in bathrooms that read “4 out of 5 Males Wash Their Hands,” with pictures of students wearing MSU hats and a guide to effective hand washing. Researchers in the bathroom recorded hand-washing behavior and marked how well the guide was followed. When the participants exited the bathroom they were approached by experimenters and willing participants filled out a questionnaire.
The findings suggested that men who are exposed to a relatable message in the bathroom are more likely to wash their hands and run the water longer than participants not exposed to the messages. This information can be important from a public health standpoint. Quality hand washing helps prevent the transmission of diseases and germs, especially during cold and flu season. The results also support the notion that communication is important in health campaigns.
In addition to Shulman, the researchers included Maria Lapinski of Michigan State University, Erin Maloney of the University of Pennsylvania, and Mary Braz of Westchester University.
Shulman has been a member of North Central’s faculty since 2011. She holds a B.S. in communication science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an M.A. and Ph.D. in communication from Michigan State University.