Full bladder, better decisions? Controlling your bladder decreases impulsive choices

February 28, 2011

What should you do when you really, REALLY have to "go"? Make important life decisions, maybe. Controlling your bladder makes you better at controlling yourself when making decisions about your future, too, according to a study to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Sexual excitement, hunger, thirst—psychological scientists have found that activation of just one of these bodily desires can actually make people want other, seemingly unrelated, rewards more. Take, for example, a man who finds himself searching for a bag of potato chips after looking at sexy photos of women. If this man were able to suppress his sexual desire in this situation, would his hunger also subside? This is the sort of question Mirjam Tuk, of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, sought to answer in the laboratory.

Tuk came up with the idea for the study while attending a long lecture. In an effort to stay alert, she drank several cups of coffee. By the end of the talk, she says, "All the coffee had reached my bladder. And that raised the question: What happens when people experience higher levels of bladder control?" With her colleagues, Debra Trampe of the University of Groningen and Luk Warlop of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Tuk designed experiments to test whether self-control over one bodily desire can generalize to other domains as well.

In one experiment, participants either drank five cups of water (about 750 milliliters), or took small sips of water from five separate cups. Then, after about 40 minutes—the amount of time it takes for water to reach the bladder—the researchers assessed participants' self-control. Participants were asked to make eight choices; each was between receiving a small, but immediate, reward and a larger, but delayed, reward. For example, they could choose to receive either $16 tomorrow or $30 in 35 days.

The researchers found that the people with full bladders were better at holding out for the larger reward later. Other experiments reinforced this link; for example, in one, just thinking about words related to urination triggered the same effect.

"You seem to make better decisions when you have a full bladder," Tuk says. So maybe you should drink a bottle of water before making a decision about your stock portfolio, for example. Or perhaps stores that count on impulse buys should keep a bathroom available to customers, since they might be more willing to go for the television with a bigger screen when they have an empty bladder.

The results were a little surprising from a theoretical point of view; a lot of research in psychology has supported the concept of "ego depletion"—that having to restrain yourself wears out your brain and makes it harder to exert self-control over something else. But Tuk says this seems to work in a different way, maybe because control is largely an automatic, unconscious process.

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not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
i want descriptions of more experiments that went into this study. i happen to think the conclusions are not surprising from a theoretical point of view... imagine (ie, remember) yourself in a state of raised consciousness, that is, outward consciousness, the "I need the bathroom", or "When is this over?", looking around, analyzing... this seems to me like it would certainly shift decision making outcomes, but who is seriously contending that in all cases, or even any case, "$16 tomorrow is WORSE or LESS SENSIBLE than $30 in 35 days"

maybe there are certain, subjectively shaded harmonics of activities in the mind that compliment each others' stability or coherence (...like holding down your bladder or bowels while making cost-benefit analyses)

Joe Berlin
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2011
Is it just me, or is there a tv quiz show in there somewhere?
"Pressure Treasure" anyone?

1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2011
... and then if you can keep you bowel shut for a whole month without exploding you get to become like a... president of the US?
5 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2011
Does this mean that people who hold out until they piss themselves make the best decisions?
not rated yet Mar 01, 2011
I hold out a lot, and all it seems to make me do is rush around more when I have a full bladder, even when I'm not on the way to the loo.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2011
And that raised the question: What happens when people experience higher levels of bladder control?"
They go out the way Tycho Brahe did. Feet first with a ruptured bladder.

not rated yet Mar 05, 2011
Just Plain Nuts.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2011
... and then if you can keep you bowel shut for a whole month without exploding you get to become like a... president of the US?

No, but maybe ceo of microsoft.

1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2011
I would think holding it for a month would cause cancer... like perhaps Steve Jobs as the example... I mean the company he runs is just like a cancer... sorta makes some kind of morbid sense. Doesn't it?

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