Empathy as a Predictor and Trigger of Hand Hygiene Behavior

  • S. Diefenbacher
  • C. Sassenrath
  • J. Keller


Hand hygiene is vital for the prevention of nosocomial infections. We argue that empathy fosters hand hygiene behavior, since an orientation towards others’ fortunes should highlight the costs/ benefits of insufficient/ adequate hand hygiene for others. We tested this prediction in three studies. In Study 1, we assessed empathy using a short version of Mehrabian & Epstein’s measure of affective empathy and hand hygiene behavior with a self-report measure inspired by Kahneman and colleagues’ Day Reconstruction Method. In Study 2, we experimentally manipulated empathy according to a procedure by Batson and colleagues and assessed actual hand hygiene behavior during a food preparation task, simulating work processes in a retirement home. In Study 3, an empathy-intervention was tested in a German hospital, where an empathy induction was implemented in a hospital unit and disinfectant usage frequency was assessed during a baseline and an intervention period in the intervention and a control hospital unit. Results of all three studies indicate that empathy fosters hand hygiene behavior. This effect emerged in correlational as well as experimental studies in the lab and in the field.
Oral presentations