Do you have a full bladder? Before you rush down to the bathroom, you may want to take a minute and find out what holding your pee in says about your smarts.
According to some (very sadistic scientists), there is some evidence that we show higher cognitive abilities on a full bladder. They concluded that when nature calls, a lot of of us answer with our best selves.
The study in question, which appeared in the journal of Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to test a mental quirk called “inhibitory spillover effect.” This effect essentially describes whether or not a person’s ability to assert self-control over one thing—like holding their bladder—can make them better at exerting self-control over another thing, like saying ‘no’ to a plate of their favourite snack between meals.
The researchers particularly tested whether the need to pee had a positive or negative impact on a group of students who were asked to put on their best poker faces and lie about their political beliefs.
The setup for the research was simple: Some participants were asked to drink five glasses of water, and the others to drink five sips of water. Over the course of 45 minutes (a “timeframe that ensured a full bladder,” according to the research team), both groups were asked their opinions on social and political topics like gun control and the death penalty.
When the 45-minute wait was up, the participants were then instructed to lie to interviewers about the same topics (if one person admitted to being pro-death-penalty earlier, they would have to argue the opposite position now). These interviews were recorded and shown to a panel of 75 students, who rated the liars on overall trustworthiness, anxiety, and other signs of dishonesty.
True to the team’s expectations, the group with the full-bladder was consistently less anxious and fidgety, gave more detailed answers, and “appeared more confident and convincing when lying than when telling the truth. Overall, they showed noticeably more of what the researchers called “cognitive control.”
So there you have it: A full bladder does provide a spillover of self-control in other areas. These results are consistent with earlier studies that found that people with a full-bladder are more disciplined in financial planning and impulse control.
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron is said to be a wholehearted (and bladdered) proponent of the need-to-pee method, attesting to its power of bonus focus and clarity.
But how legitimate is this advice? Is the bonus impulse control worth the potential health risks of holding it? “To hold,or not to hold” is a question you will ultimately have to answer for yourself, and on a case-by-case basis.