This revelation comes to us from Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, faculty in the Department of Marketing and Organization Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. They noticed the difficulty we all have when it comes to choosing between an immediate reward, like going out to dinner, and a longer term reward, like not going to dinner and putting that money in our retirement savings instead. Most research shows that we have only a limited amount of self-control available, and if we’re already using it elsewhere, we’re less likely to be able to control our impulses. It’s just part of our neurological makeup. But we also come with a “Behavioral Inhibition System,” for example bladder control, and Tuk Trampe and Warlop found that when we’re busy controlling our bladder, we also tend to choose longer term rewards over short term rewards. They call this a “spill over” effect which seems appropriate given the topic.
To find out they ran a series of experiments designed to test the parts of our brains responsible for the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS). Some participants in the test were asked to drink a whole bunch of water before the experiment began, and others were asked to just take a few sips of water. After sitting for 45 minutes (and yes, you know why), the experiments began. After the tasks had been completed, participants were asked to report their “urination urgency” on a scale of 1 (not urgently at all) to 7 (very urgently).
In all cases, those who needed to pee did better on the tests. In fact, when it came to choosing a short term or a long term reward (I’ll give you $16 tomorrow or $30 in 35 days), the folks with the crossed legs, jumping up and down in their chairs were more likely to choose the longer term reward.
So, how can you use this information?
Here are some suggestions:
Let’s say your jeans are getting a bit tight so you’re trying to eat a little less. BUT you’re going out to eat and you know you’ll be tempted to order that high calorie favorite of yours. How about drinking a whole bunch of water before you make the drive? Sure, you’ll need to head to the bathroom once you arrive, but don’t do it until AFTER you’ve ordered. That should help you make a better choice!
Your significant other is heading to a sale at his or her favorite store. You’ve agreed that you’re trying to put a little more aside for a nice vacation or retirement, but the temptations will be large at the sale. Pull out the pitcher, fill up some water bottles and drink up. You’ll be so busy looking for the restroom that it will be easy to keep your wallet in your pocket.
On the other hand, if you’re a store owner, you might want to take down that sign that says “No Public Restrooms.” Customers who have “urination urgency” aren’t going to buy a thing. Think about it. How many of you have bought something at a gas station, just because you needed to use their restroom? Selling at a Farmer’s Market? Maybe you want to know the quickest route to the port-a-potties to help your customers out. 🙂
Headed to a business meeting where you’re worried that the folks you’re working with are going to choose the short term reward over the better, longer term reward? Pump them full of coffee, tea, or water, and don’t let them leave the room before they make their decision.
Of course, none of this may work at all, but it’s worth a shot.
One more thing…
Have you ever teased a friend or family member who needs a bathroom break by talking about waterfalls, or toilets, or anything else related to running water, just to boost their suffering a bit? Well, our reseachers demonstrated that you really are having an effect. They ran a test to see if water-primed students would feel more “urination urgent” if they did a word search puzzle looking for words like “urination,” “toilet,” and “bladder.” Sure enough, it made it worse of the students too.