Small bribes may help people build healthy handwashing habits

Good habits are hard to adopt. But a little bribery can go a long way.

That’s the finding from an experiment in India that used rewards to get villagers hooked on routine handwashing. While tying rewards to desired behaviors has long been a staple of habit formation, handwashing has proven difficult to stick.

The rewards worked. “If you bribe kids, handwashing rates shoot up,” says developmental economist Reshmaan Hussam of Harvard Business School. And even just making handwashing a pleasant, easy activity improved health: Children in households with thoughtfully designed soap dispensers experienced fewer illnesses than children in households without those tools, Hussam and colleagues report in a paper

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