In 2010, a British audience determined that the invention of the flush toilet (often mistakenly credited to Englishman Thomas Crapper) is the the ninth greatest invention of all time – above shoes, email and even sliced bread.
While many see the home toilet as a sacred space for contemplation, meditation and the chance to play Candy Crush, the public convenience is less a time for mindfulness and more an exercise in drop-and-dash. For decades now, psychologists have been excreting big piles of work to decipher our habits at-bowl and determine what it all means. Over to them.
Dubbed ‘latrinalia’ by one scholar, toilet graffiti has drawn attention from many researchers and theorists over the years as it highlights primal psychological differences between the sexes.
Alfred Kinsey’s study of 300 public toilets in the early 1950s found that men’s toilet graffiti was mostly image-based and insulting, while women’s toilet walls were peppered with romantic content. In the years since, psychologists have offered that male toilet graffiti is a ‘phallic expression of dominance’.
In 1999, San Francisco Chronicle journalist David Grimes wrote a fairly scathing review of work undertaken by New Jersey psychologist Dr. Barbara Farrell who drew links between the condition of a person’s home bathroom and their personality.
According to Farrell, compulsively neat arrangements of shampoos, medicines, lotions and potions means you’re probably an anxious person who likes control, and if your bog’s adorned in mirrors, you’re probably an exhibitionist.
Farrell’s study isn’t exactly a satisfying and weighty splash in the psycho-pot, but much psychological rationale has been written about ladies attending the toilet in pairs. After wading through the academic explanations, we found just as good a reason at Cracked.com. Contrary to popular male theorising, nothing magical happens when girls hit the can in groups, it seems it’s just a social thing.
Ladies are traditionally more relational than men so look for lulls in the dinner or pub chat to cut out and pee: ‘If one lady decides to go, another lady might notice it, think about where the conversation is at, and realise, “Oh yeah, this probably is a good break.”
Spare a thought for the poor researchers tasked with hiding in public loos to observe and record how long people spend at-stool, and their post-poo hand-washing rituals. Led by noted sociologist Thomas Berry, a crack team measured the toilet behaviour of 34 women, and 32 men who used cubicles; and 64 men who used a urinal. Findings demonstrated that both women and men using cubicles took significantly longer to wash hands than urinal users. Men actually wash longer than women. Interesting.
There’s a lot more, but best we stop there before we lose you to the toilet.
More reading on the bog
So much more happens in the toilet, especially the public convenience, that isn’t talked about. From your choice in cubicle (the first is usually used least and is therefore cleanest), to unwritten rules about chatting with strangers. For boys there’s important questions like which urinal? And: do you look? You know what we mean …
It’s a minefield, so we’ll leave you with those links and ask that you consider your own bathroom etiquette leave your insights in the comments.
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