Coronavirus: why it is so difficult to stop touching your face as recommended to prevent the spread of covid_19

Coronavirus: why it is so difficult to stop touching your face as recommended to prevent the spread

Of all the behaviors that differentiate us from the rest of the animals, one, in particular, can be especially problematic during the outbreak of a disease coronavirus.

Human beings are the only species that touch our faces without even noticing.
And this helps to spread diseases such as caused by the new coronavirus (covid-19).
Why do we do it and how can we avoid this involuntary behavior?

Risky activity

We all touch our faces with remarkable frequency.
A 2015 study based on observations of medical students in Australia found that even they couldn't stop.
Medical students may be more aware than the rest of the risks, but they still touched their faces at least 23 times per hour, including frequent contact with their mouth, nose, and eyes.
Public health agencies and professionals, including the World Health Organization (WHO), say that this "feast of touch" is dangerous.
The recommendations around covid-19 emphasize that keeping our hands away from our faces is as important as washing them.

Why do we do it?

We humans can't help it and the same happens to some primates. Apparently, this is due to the way we evolve.
While most species touch their faces as an exercise in grooming or as a way to scare away pests, we and some primates also do so for many other reasons.
Sometimes it's a kind of mechanism to calm us down, says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States.
Other times we do it unconsciously to flirt or "as if it were the curtain that closes an act of social theater, to announce the next act," says the expert.
Other experts in behavioral sciences conclude that touching us helps us control our emotions and our attention span.
Martin Grunwald, a German psychologist and professor at the University of Leipzig, says it is a "fundamental behavior of our species."
"Touching oneself is a self-regulatory movement that is generally not designed to communicate and is often done with little or no conscience," Grunwald explains.
"(These behaviors) play a key role in cognitive and emotional processes, all people have them," added the professor, author of the book "Homo Hapticus: why can't we live without the sense of touch."
The problem of touching oneself is that our eyes, nose, and mouth are the entrance doors for all kinds of "bugs" to our bodies.
Covid-19, for example, is transmitted from person to person through the small drops that the infected individual expels through the nose or mouth.
But we can also get infected if we touch objects or surfaces that have been in contact with the virus.
While experts continue to study this new virus, coronaviruses are known to be resistant and some managed to survive on surfaces for up to nine days.


This survival power forms a dangerous combination with our habit of touching our faces.
In 2012, a team of American and Brazilian researchers discovered that a randomly selected sample of people touched surfaces in public spaces more than three times per hour.
They also touched their mouth or nose "about 3.6 times per hour." This is much less than 23 times per hour for Australian students, perhaps because they were observed during their classes and not outside, where there are more distractions.
For some health experts, this propensity to touch our faces is a more powerful reason to wear facial masks as a means of protection against the virus, than to use them as filters.
"Wearing a mask can reduce people's tendency to touch their faces, which is a major source of infection without proper hand hygiene," explains Stephen Griffin, a professor at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom.
washing our hands and Masks can make us touch our faces less and prevent the contraction of coronavirus COVID-19
Masks can make us touch our faces less.

What can we do?

But what measures can we implement to at least reduce the frequency with which we touch our faces?
Michael Hallsworth, a behavioral researcher and professor at Columbia University in the US, explains that it is extremely difficult to take action in practice.
"Telling people to stop doing something they do unconsciously is a classic problem," he tells the BBC. Hallsworth, who worked as a government policy advisor in the United Kingdom.
"It's much easier for people to wash their hands more often than to touch their faces fewer times. You won't succeed if you tell someone to simply 'don't make an unconscious gesture.'"
However, Hallsworth believes there are certain techniques that can help.
One of them is trying to be more aware of how often you touch your face.
"When it is a physical necessity like when it itches, for example, we can build an alternative behavior," he says.

Identify the triggers

The behavioral expert also recommends that we try to understand why we touch each other.
"If we recognize the situations that trigger this behavior, we can act on them," Hallsworth explains.
"People who touch their eyes can wear sunglasses. Or sit on their hands when they feel they are about to touch."
We can also use methods to keep our hands occupied - widget spinners or balls to relieve stress, for example - especially in those times when our hands have nothing to do.
But these have to be disinfected frequently.
"Notes for oneself reminding us not to touch our faces can also be useful."
The expert suggests that if someone knows he has compulsive behavior, he can ask his friends or family to warn him (that he is touching his face).
And how about wearing a pair of gloves to remember us? Bad idea, unless you change them and wash them regularly like your hands. Otherwise, they will also be a contaminated surface.
washing hands and coronavirus: The importance of regular hand washing should not be underestimated.
The importance of regular hand washing should not be underestimated.

The old habit of washing your hands works. And a lot.

At the end of the day, nothing replaces washing your hands regularly and thoroughly.
"We do not need to wait for vaccines and therapies," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, told a conference on February 28.

There are things that each individual can do today to protect themselves.


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