Human Observation – Handwashing



The study will revolve around critically exploring distinct dimensions of human observation. In this paper, the emphasis has been placed on applying scientific methods in order to observe human behavior. There are different behavior change theories which signify ways in which perception or attitude tends to influence overall human behavior. 

The problem behavior to be analyzed in this particular paper is the fluctuating trend of washing hands after visiting a restroom. It is a serious concern in relation to hygiene conditions of an individual. With the growing trend of not washing hands, the problem regarding hand hygiene is expected to increase relatively more. 

The depicted behavior needs to be thoroughly observed or studied because it can have a serious impact on overall health hygiene. From a broader perspective, the key influential factors need to be critically examined which is solely responsible for initiating such behavioral change. 


The study of behavioral change or behavioral pattern can be best analyzed with the support of some theoretical frameworks. Amongst all, the most important theoretical framework is the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). As per McEachan, Conner, Taylor and Lawton (2011), a behavioral instinct is basically a summation of various external and internal influential forces. According to the concept of the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), cognitive ability of individuals needs to be thoroughly studied since it is inter-linked with emotional behavioral aspects. Behavioral research in the context of health psychology is strongly associated with the study of cognition. A brief overview of the conceptual model has been highlighted in the Figure 1. 

Figure 1: Conceptual Model

Figure 1 Conceptual Model

There are three factors inter-related with one another, i.e. behavior, environmental forces and personal factors. According to Fletcher and Fitness (2014), precisely, a behavioral change is practically an outcome of social norms or what an individual observes over a given period of time. On the basis of the theory, it can be argued that a portion of a person’s knowledge acquisition is linked with observation in the context of experiences, external media influences and social interactions. An individual’s behavior, cognition and environment play a vital role in relation to acquiring new knowledge or gaining required skills. Another theory which supports the viewpoint put across in SCT is the theory of planned behavior. To be more specific, behavioral perception is developed with time which gets transferred into some kind of planned behavior. For instance, the intention of avoiding certain scenario or behaving in a specific way is basically an outcome of attitude based on perception and various subjective norms, as stated by Ajzen, Joyce, Sheikh and Cote (2011).  Hence, behavioral change is bound to happen when there is any transition in social norms or due to development of any specific perceptual attitude. 


The null hypothesis (H0) is – ‘there is a specific behavioral change observed with reference to handwashing’. On the contrary, the alternative hypothesis (H1) can be defined as – ‘there is no such specific behavioral change observed with reference to handwashing’. The data obtained shall help in proving a hypothesis correct along with rejecting the other.

Research procedure 

There are two forms of research procedure which can be taken into account by a researcher, i.e. quantitative and qualitative research. The quantitative research approach is more about collecting raw market data which can be statistically represented. On the other hand, qualitative research is inclined towards reflecting upon viewpoints or personal opinions, and finally deriving specific conclusions. There are different data collection tools which are used to conduct qualitative and quantitative research. For instance, a questionnaire survey is a common tool used for obtaining information so as to perform quantitative analysis. However, for this paper, the fluctuating behavioral trend in case of handwashing can be best predicted through undertaking the observation process. Observation is a well-known qualitative research approach or a systematic data collection procedure used to examine individuals within naturally occurring scenarios or natural settings. In this study, the observation research process will reveal how many people are actually washing their hands while leaving from the restroom. The entire process of observation shall be conducted for a time-frame of 6 weeks. In a collective manner, the results would be highlighted in the context of people washing hands and percentage of those who simply avoid this behavioral pattern.  


Over a period of 6 weeks, the observation process was conducted through taking into consideration few critical factors. Firstly, observing whether males or females are more likely to wash hands after using the restroom. Secondly, witnessing the trend of males and females who do not wash hands after leaving from the washroom. Thirdly, viewing false claims made by participants when asked whether they have actually washed their hands in real-time. The observation results basically cover all of the above-stated parameters. The key results from the observation procedure in last 6 weeks has been presented below – 

Observation Results 
Parameters Men (%)Women (%)
Washed hands3515
Used soap 5078
Did not wash hands 157


Observation results (Men)

Observation results (Women)

As per the observation process, it is observed that the behavioral change pattern in relation to handwashing usually differs between males and females. For instance, it has been witnessed that majority of females do wash their hand or use soap at the time of using the restroom. However, the pattern is not similar in case of males. A significant proportion of males were witnessed not to wash hands at the time of leaving the restroom. Another interesting observation was that majority of adults when asked personally about their handwashing pattern, they did clearly mention about washing their hands after using the restroom. Approximately, 95% of the adults did confirm about their handwashing behavior while leaving from the restroom, however, in reality, the trend was completely the opposite. To a certain extent, individuals are basically reluctant towards sharing such behavioral change pattern. 

Discussion of results/findings 

The observation results are interesting enough as it has effectively captured the real-time behavioral change pattern. Both males and females were separately observed during the research time-frame to identify how many people are actually washing hands and percentage of them completely avoiding the situation. It has been observed that 15% of males did not wash hands and 35% washed hands without using soap. Comparatively, females were observed to significantly maintain relatively better health hygiene. There are distinct factors which result in such behavioral change pattern. For instance, individuals have a perception that a dirty sink is less hygienic; hence, they should not wash their hands. On the other hand, a clean restroom or a clean sink triggers the trend of washing hands amongst men. 

The null hypothesis is proved because the observation results justify that there is definitely a behavioral change pattern in regards to handwashing. On the basis of SCT, it can be stated that there are two aspects which influence human behavior, i.e. observational learning and environmental factors. Personal cognitive abilities are inter-linked with physical and social environmental conditions. For example, social environment mainly constitutes friends, colleagues and family members.  On the other hand, physical environment represents ambience, etc. As mentioned earlier, approximately 20% to 22% not washing their hands is also because of the fact that the ambience within the restroom is not up to the desirable standards. Arguably, a higher percentage of females washing hands signify favorable social environmental conditions, where friends or family consistently create an impression of maintaining hygiene. Observational learning also plays a critical role, simply because a person’s behavior is not entirely a response to environmental influence. It can be argued that individuals not washing their hands might have been subjected to an observational learning procedure where others did the same or handwashing after using the restroom was not encouraged. The overall accumulation of such learning gradually leads to a complete change in behavioral attitude due to development of a specific perception. 

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From the above research study, it can be concluded that the pattern of behavioral change is basically an outcome of various influential forces. As witnessed in this observation research procedure, a certain portion of males and females do not wash hands and some do not even use soap after using the restroom. Therefore, the study presents various dimensions where female adults were found to maintain relatively more health hygiene compared to male adults. The problem behavior was needed to be studied as the outlined behavioral problem can supposedly be a leading cause of various health problems. In future work, SCT can be a guiding framework for determining ways to resolve the similar behavioral problem. 

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  1. Ajzen, I., Joyce, N., Sheikh, S. and Cote, N. G. (2011). Knowledge and the prediction of behavior: The role of information accuracy in the theory of planned behavior. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 33(2), 101-117.
  2. Fletcher, G.J. and Fitness, J. (2014).  Knowledge structures in close relationships: A social psychological approach. New York: Psychology Press.
  3. McEachan, R. R. C., Conner, M., Taylor, N. J. and Lawton, R. J. (2011). Prospective prediction of health-related behaviors with the theory of planned behavior: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology Review, 5(2), 97-144.
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