Personality tied to hygiene habits

According to the world’s largest ever study on hygiene behaviour, personality type and manners have a direct bearing on your health.

Conducted in 2011 by the Global Hygiene Council (GHC), and based on responses to over 1.5 million questions, the internationalDettol HABIT Study (Hygiene: Attitudes, Behaviour, Insight and Traits) was carried out in 12 countries around the world - including South Africa. The study explored the factors that influence and shape different hygiene behaviour. 

Overall, the study shows that there has been a decline in hygiene standards through past decades. In fact, some developing countries seem to be overtaking Western countries in their concern for hygiene. Hygiene practises are poorer in the young which may reflect a secular change in attitudes to hygiene, as it has taken on less social importance over the years.

The Dettol HABIT study found an interesting correlation between personality type, good manners and health. The results highlight the importance of practising good hygiene (such as effective hand washing and household cleaning) and good manners (such as sneezing or coughing into a tissue, discarding it appropriately and then washing one’s hands) in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.     

Hygienic people get sick less often

According to the study, conscientious/dependable and nervous/sensitive personality types experience 10% fewer colds and diarrhoea than others and tend to practise better personal and domestic hygiene habits. Furthermore, it seems it pays to be mannerly: those with good manners have better personal hygiene and are almost two and a half times more likely to enjoy good health and a low incidence of colds and diarrhoea.

The Dettol HABIT study also showed that tidy/orderly individuals are more hygienic than messy/chaotic people while women and older people tend to have better hygiene habits than men and younger people. Homemakers display the highest levels of personal and household hygiene while students and office workers display the worst personal hygiene habits.

Globally, gender plays a significant role, with more women than men tending to adopt good hygiene practises (59.5% as against 44.5%). South Africa bucked global trends in that both men and women are equally likely to engage in good hygiene practises.

On the personal hygiene stakes, South Africans conform to the global norm that good personal hygiene correlates with increased age, income and education levels. However, South Africa, China and Malaysia were found to have the poorest hygiene habits of the 12 countries surveyed.

Practise good hygiene every day

Says Professor Barry Schoub, Professor of Virology at Wits and consultant to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases: “These new findings from the study further emphasise how improved hygiene behaviour can effectively stop the spread of germs and protect health. Practising good hygiene is not simply the concern of women, more conscientious people or those who live in a dirty environment – it’s everyone’s responsibility and is vital in reducing the spread of infectious diseases.”

Good hygiene habits are linked to a reduction in many kinds of common illness, such as respiratory and enteric infections. For example, a local study1 showed that the use of antibacterial products reduces enteric infections by 15.2% in children under 15 years, and 19.8% in people over the age of 15. The reduction in the incidence of respiratory ailments is even more marked: a decrease of 46.5% in under fives, 34.4% in the under 15s, and 85.8% in those older than 15.

Professor John Oxford, Chairman of the Hygiene Council and Professor of Virology at Barts and The London School of Dentistry says: “Understanding what drives hygiene behaviour is very valuable. The Dettol HABIT study uncovered characteristics and traits which are associated with good hygiene and health outcomes such as conscientiousness and practising hygiene automatically or routinely.

"We want people to recognise where they may be falling down and take action to make hygiene a habit. Teach your children good manners and build hygiene into your everyday routine.”

Based on the study’s findings, the Hygiene Council recommends that steps should be taken to make good hygiene practises a habit from an early age, with good manners, regular hand washing and targeted disinfection built into everyday routines.

 For further information on the Global Hygiene Council, please visit

 (Press release, June 2011)

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