Getting into the habit: Handwashing and child health in India


Published 04.03.20
Photo credit:
European Union

Access to soap dispensers combined with monitoring and incentives increased handwashing and generated substantial improvements in child health

Audio file

In this VoxDev talk, Reshmaan Hussam discusses a field experiment in West Bengal, India to test the rational addiction model on handwashing habits. To reliably measure handwashing, a soap dispenser with an embedded time-stamp sensor was randomly distributed. This was accompanied by monitoring (feedback reports) or monitoring and incentives (tickets for goods) for daily handwashing. All treatments generated substantial improvements in child health as measured by child weight and height. 

The test of rational addiction revealed that both monitoring and incentives increase handwashing relative to receiving only a dispenser, that these effects persist after monitoring or incentives are removed, and that the anticipation of monitoring increases handwashing rates significantly. The results shed light on an underdeveloped dimension of decision-making essential to sustained behavioural change.