Running Water

Running water makes people want to pee.



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65 Responses to Running Water

  1. icareviews says:

    Early homo sapiens who pissed their loincloths probably weren’t as successful at finding mates as those who did their business furtively in a nearby lake or river.

  2. Marvin says:

    Sound similarity. Same principle as in smiling makes people feel happier or reading aloud opinion they don’t share makes them treat it more favorably. These “induction” experiments are quite known. Why should pee sound be different?

  3. Sandgroper says:

    No idea. I always heard that, but it never had that effect on me. I have noticed Chinese parents encouraging their infants to pee make a whistling noise. It doesn’t seem to have much effect on the infants either. Maybe it’s one of those universal ‘old wives’ tales’. There are some that seem to be universals, like getting cold and wet will make you catch cold.

    • Portlander says:

      You’re wrong, of course. As a parent I can personally vouch that making the piss sound will induce infants and toddlers to pee. That is, if there is a need on the part of the child. Obviously one can’t draw water from a dry well.

  4. Douglas Knight says:

    Is this a universal, or only true of people with plumbing? hunter-gatherers? people with wells?

    Seeing a bathroom makes me want to pee. This is pretty clearly learned, though maybe I learned that they have running water.

  5. The only thing that really makes me want to pee is when I go from a cold to warm environment (like during winter).

  6. Sandgroper says:

    There was a trick I heard about at university, where people would immerse the hand of a sleeping person in a basin of warm water, which would allegedly make them piss in their pants. I never witnessed this.

  7. dave chamberlin says:

    Peeing makes the sound of running water so we associate one with the other. But that is too easy. Cochran has to have some tricky answer and I don’t know what it is.

  8. erica says:

    I’d love to know why. I am highly susceptible to both the sound and the sight of the water.

    What about seeing or hearing someone yawn causing a desire to yawn? Just typing this made me feel as if I HAD to yawn. (Just did. Feel better too.)

    Or our reaction to seeing someone scratching himself? Let the itching and scratching begin!

    Are these behaviors all related phenomena? Or is the water thing different? In many places fresh water is/was scarce. By causing us to empty our bladders, the sound of the running water would ensure we’d have the room and the desire to drink lustily while the gettin’ was good.

  9. peppermint7889 says:

    Because running water is often potable, so it’s a good time to drop some wastewater and then stock up.

    • Father in Helsinki says:

      This. Next stage of the question is, how does pissing drive thirstiness?

    • Boris Bartlog says:

      This is my assumption too, but I have the nagging feeling that it doesn’t quite make sense. Why not just pee after you’ve already had the drink? More fail-safe that way, unless the issue is that you’re supposed to pee *before* you get to the water, so as not to foul it.

  10. Toad says:

    This looks like a good multi-million research project and phd thesis.

  11. j3morecharacters says:

    True. It also works on dogs. It may have to do something with the fact that urine is a territorial ownership mark.

    • Marvin says:

      That wouldn’t explain why it works on women too. On the other hand lots of human males have the urge to pee when they are on a very high ground/building/something. *That* might have something to do with territorial marking.

      • erica says:

        The old peeing off the balcony?

      • Sandgroper says:

        That’s just the standard male pissing contest, seeing who can piss the furthest. At my primary school, there was one kid who could piss so high, he pissed over the wall onto the teacher standing outside. Very angry teacher – of course no one would tell who did it.

      • engleberg says:

        I used to walk my dog past McDonald wrappers. Sniff, lick, one step forward, pee, on to the next wrapper, this one is now poisoned against other dogs. Or maybe she was being flirty with boy dogs.

  12. anon says:

    Might be that peeing on the ground leaves germs, so better to pee when it rains, and thus the germs get washed away.

  13. CharlesK says:

    I had worked this out to my own satisfaction years ago. The sound of a stream of water (not the sound of Niagra Falls) makes one want to pee because it synchronizes rest stops in a war party or hunting party, or just on a nomadic expedition.

    It is more efficient, less dangerous than straggling 90 seconds behind, and anyway, try to picture being a 17 year old out on your first real three day hunt, or out on maneuvers with your platoon, and trying to get the courage to tell the grizzled veterans that you need to stop to pee when everyone else went 15 minutes ago.

    I suppose the strong combined scent keeps four legged predators wary of the party as well.

    • CharlesK says:

      My observations about group urination were made as a the child of laissez faire parents. My brothers and I wandered farmland and forests in an unstructured manner (sometimes with a loaded BSA air rifle, later with a one shot 22) in Quebec, Ontario, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the North of Scotland. This as small children (sometimes with friends or cousins). That was every summer from early sixties to early seventies. I suspect the piss stimulus is the sound of others pissing, reinforced no doubt by classical conditioning. Or to rephrase that, as a useful instinct it is an unconditioned reflex reinforced by classical conditioning.

      It need serve not much or any purpose if it were inherited from ancestor species that were more prone to predation, but I think it served a purpose in recent times.

      I imagine several mammal species have it, but I have no evidence. My background is data structures and algorithms – not a background to assert an opinion with any authority.

  14. Roma in the Glaucoma says:

    Which people? When does the phenomenon start and how strongly does it affect different groups? Do deaf people feel the urge when they see running water? And is it related to contagious yawning?

  15. One might get a hint as to whether it’s an innate reflex to a potential resting spot, or pavlovian conditioning by exposure to bathrooms, by testing whether wild chimps (who wander in troops similar to ours) also are brought to pee by the sound of running water.

  16. We should compare this presumed association with the proven relationship between Cochran asking a question and getting a flood, or perhaps shower, of comments. In both cases a stimulus provokes a reaction: Running water makes people want to pee because physiological restraint is costly, and peeing is only worth restraining in very specific settings. Running water safely gets rid of scent that could be traced by a predator.
    People reply to Cochran because not knowing what the hell he is getting at is like have a full bladder. Sorry, I have to stop now. Back later.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Everyone now tries to give silly answers because being insulted by Greg has become a valued collectible, a badge of honour (“I too had the courage to say something stupid to Greg Cochran”) and because the put-downs are so much fun.

  17. dearieme says:

    How about the sound of water moving relative to you e.g. in a sailing boat?

  18. Magnus says:

    Mirror neurons?

  19. A2M says:

    Chances and competition: peeing nearby a water souce give you the chance to refill the bladder, and marking territories is a very necessary behaviour in respect of limited resource like water. That’s why you Yankees stucked a flag on the moon. I can’t tell the exact neurological mechanism underlyng, but i can hypotize it’s similar to the one that lead a fall in testosterone after exposure to cry sound. I may suppose it’s based on inhibition of vasopressine and stimulation of oxytocin release (given the italian said: who doesn’t piss in company is a swiper or a spy) and perhaps drd2-like receptors activation, giving a quietly resting feeling.

  20. In a recent article of mine I wrote “A contagious yawn manifests the desire for pleasant sleep evoked by seeing in another’s yawn the expression of the same desire.” I cited “Aristotle” Problemata 886a24-26 which explains contagious yawning this way. Similarly, in the literature of cognitive science, STEVEN M. PLATEK, S.R. CRITTON, T.E. MYERS, GORDON G. GALLUP, Contagious yawning; the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution, Cognitive Brain Research 17:2, 2003, 223: “We hypothesized that contagious yawning occurs as a consequence of a theory of mind, the ability to infer or empathize with what others w a n t [my emphasis], know, or intend to do.“ The contagious yawning explanation in the Problemata compares that phenomenon to that of desiring to urinate when seeing others urinate. In other words, seeing pleasurable peeing evokes the desire for the same pleasure. According to this theory, running water would remind one of the pleasure of peeing.

  21. Ian says:

    I prefer to fart in a windstorm. It’s epic and it has a Copernican feeling.

  22. Greying Wanderer says:


  23. Flemur says:

    My GF and I are getting pretty old – we call the water effect the “pee monster”.

    Go to make a pot of coffee (=pour water into the pot, add 7 scoops of coffee to the filter) with no thought of needing to pee, pour the water into the pot and within seconds wonder if we have enough time to add the coffee before we pee ourselves. Perhaps the the fact that coffee is involved makes it worse, but the same thing happens when I water the lawn. Pisses me off.

  24. I have thought of this as a modern, pavlovian phenomenon. It is certainly possible, as watching someone light up a cigarette on TV or in a movie always prompted that response in me when I was a smoker.

    But if societies without echo-y toilets or other plumbing sounds also experience the running water/urination association, then a single-life learned experience is of course not the entire explanation.

    • j3morecharacters says:

      I vote for the Village Idiot’s explanation. It is a conditioned reflex. Pavlovian. I retire my hypothesis related to territorial marking.

  25. Gottlieb says:

    Because the brain is fooled that the body is excess moisture, the skin absorbs or holds on your part this surface moisture and this is signaled or interpreted by the brain as excess water in the body, so you need to open the enclosure I call the bladder to empty the box to stop the excess. Finally, a highly unlikely suggestion.
    Or whatever …
    A spontaneous movement of the body, when you feel the heat, you try to dispel it from your body when you feel wet, needs to dissipate excess moisture, finally, do not know why I have not finished this comment on ” orwhatever”.
    Emulation exterior similar action? Molecules within the body of water to give a hi molecules of water out? like a magnet.
    I should have stopped in on whatever.

  26. Gottlieb says:

    Now I read that right, he. 🙂
    Well, the body has a” clock” to go to the bathroom, for example, often go to the bathroom to do number 2 at the same times every day. There is a biological clock for sleep, poop and pee.
    When we see running water, our brain tells us it’s time to do the same thing.
    The same when we smell food.

  27. jb says:

    I sometimes find myself rather badly needing to pee as I walk up the steps of my house after a long commute from work. It’s the timing that interests me. After all, I’ve been traveling for over an hour without thinking about peeing, but now in the final 20 seconds I’m suddenly acutely aware of it. And yet the notification can’t wait another minute until I’m inside and have put all my stuff down.

    Sometimes I suddenly have to poop too. (I know I know, TMI…)

  28. little spoon says:

    Shrugs. I don’t blame you. Sometimes I get occupied with other things and don’t have time to post something substantial on my blog, so I throw random stuff out there too.

  29. Five Daarstens says:

    Somewhat related: Why do some (not all) people sneeze when they look at the Sun?

  30. Chip Smith says:

    Does the sound of running water have the same effect on other animals? If so, which ones? Might be a clue.

  31. guest says:

    It’s caused by a waterborne pathogen that hacks our brains, causing us to want to pee whenever we’re near water, thus facilitating its spread.

    I was originally joking but upon reflection I realize, that’s not totally impossible.

  32. Gottlieb says:

    Depend on individual, diabetes generally cause greater willingness to go to the bathroom.

    • Sandgroper says:

      “Willingness” is the wrong word. You can look up the meaning of a word, can’t you?

      • Gottlieb says:

        No, i think quickly with a lazy computer, sorry. I nedd choice between them. But, the most important here is the word diabetes. one who knows the symptoms of this disorder do not need more information to infer that diabetes causes such problems of these nature.
        In the more I think this may be just a coincidental correlation but not causality. After all, where usually we see running water, if not in the bathroom? It would be interesting to analyze this in workers from hydroelectric.
        When you look at the toothbrush as you think? I need to brush my teeth.
        Despite having committed a faux pas, since so many I can not remember I’m in numbers, it makes sense that there needs to be a willingness to urinate, after all, is not where you will be close to a bathroom to this need, the dogs do not let us lie.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Frequent need to urinate can also be symptomatic of prostate cancer, or advanced pregnancy. The good news is, you can’t have both.

  33. Gottlieb says:

    Yes, but the incidence of diabetes is much higher than prostate cancer. Therefore, having diabetes is the most common indicator likely to explain the will to go to the bathroom too.
    Another may be a distinct type of phenotype derived by diabetes. I do not know if there is a connection, but I for example do not have alcoholic tendencies and yet, I have a family history of diabetes cases. My mother is pre-diabetic.
    Interesting that I have a taste for girly drink, that is to say, when I ingest any alcoholic beverage, which is rare, I usually prefer to drink dulcet drink. I have no tolerance for alcoholic beverages with high content.

  34. Fintan says:

    Well, first, does it? Or, more accurately, what are the numbers on the phenomenon? I am hesitant to discuss causation for something that may or may not exist, odd habit of mine. Popular wisdom says that it is certainly the case that hearing water makes one want to urinate, but then popular wisdom says a lot of things one would be wise to be skeptical about.

    I’ve never personally experienced the effect, nor felt the need to strike up conversations with friends, coworkers, family members or random passersby regarding the subject so I’m a bit in the dark as to the overall prevalence of the phenomenon. However I’m sure one could get some grad students to conduct a limited trial — the results could be interesting.

  35. melendwyr says:

    Is there any empirical evidence (anecdotes don’t count) that this actually takes place? Perhaps this is a “science can’t explain why duck quacks don’t echo” problem.

    We can worry about coming up with an explanation once we’ve demonstrated that the phenomenon exists. Coming up with an ‘explanation’ for something that doesn’t actually happen would merely make us look like fools. And we’d deserve it.

  36. neilfutureboy says:

    Peeing in moving water takes it away. Thereby reducing the risk of disease for the tribe. Evolution does the rest. But why don’t deep holes make us want to shit?

  37. L says:

    I would think it would somehow be tied to our brains evolution. The sight of running water would be a signal that there is readily available water for the body; so a purging response in anticipation of having water to replenish the body would be completely logical (I’m not sure this is the right word, but not really a evolutionary biologist). If I was to speculate to the mechanism of this, it’s likely that the priming mechanism is the action of ‘thinking about water’ and the response mechanism somehow tied to the sympathetic nervous system as the reaction seems to be somewhat involuntary. This can be tested by representing water visually, or audibly and seeing if there is priming and subsequent purging or changes in sphrincter movement.

    • melendwyr says:

      But we can’t really absorb water from stored urine in the bladder. If the liquid is there, we’ve already removed it from the metabolism. Once the kidneys have screened it out, I don’t see that when it’s voided would make much difference to our need for fluids.

      I think it’s more likely that the sound of urination triggers an urge to urinate, and rushing water sounds similar enough to trigger the reaction. Perhaps contagious yawning has the same mechanism – we don’t understand that either.

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