Will the Apple Watch’s Hand-Washing Reminders Actually Work?
Here’s how experts say to design ‘nudges’ that actually work — and their thoughts on Apple’s new feature
I always thought I was pretty good at washing my hands, but when the pandemic began and hand-washing became an issue of life and death, it became starkly obvious that a quick scrub with hand soap was not enough. I got onboard the intense, 20-second hand-washing train, and I probably haven’t had hands this clean since I left food service.
But lately, I’ve felt myself slipping up, washing my hands for 10 seconds instead of 20, then having to go back and do the whole thing over again. As New York has begun to ease up on its stay-at-home orders, I’ve subconsciously followed suit by drifting back to my lazy hand-washing habits. It’s taking a conscious effort to remember to sing happy birthday to myself twice in a row before I’m done at the sink.
So when Apple announced at WWDC that it’s created an Apple Watch feature specifically to encourage better hand-washing habits, I was intrigued, but dubious that it would have much of an effect. How much of an impact can a vibrating Apple Watch with a bubble-letter countdown have on my hand hygiene? And for that matter, how effective are any tech apps that “nudge” us towards better, healthier behavior?
I’d set out hoping for a straightforward answer to the question — nudge type A tends to elicit greater results than nudge type B — but, like human behavior itself, there’s a complex array of factors that make for a successful nudge. From the research that does exist, it seems that the effects from technological health and behavior interventions — like the Apple hand-washing feature and notifications from fitness apps — are likely to be temporary. In other words, the Apple Watch app would probably assist in encouraging better hand-washing behavior — for as long as I was wearing the Watch, at least. But in all likelihood, I’d go back to my bad habits once I’d given up the device.
According to Paul Sherman, an assistant professor of user experience design at Kent State University, a lot of the time, product designers operate by what he calls a “hit record model or the…