Peeing is contagious. Okay. . . actually the feeling that you need to pee is what’s contagious. It’s like yawning, and as humans we are highly suggestible. You may already know that you are a lot more likely to yawn if you see someone else doing it. And this should make biological/evolutionary sense: if someone is yawning, then oxygen might be low. Why wait until you feel the effects? Yawn now and stay alive. What’s interesting is that the trigger doesn’t have to be a nearby person – just seeing someone (or something) yawn on TV can trigger you to yawn. This may be why you yawn while watching nature shows (lions, anyone?) It’s not that you are bored or tired, it’s that the animals triggered your ingrained biological reflexes.
Peeing is much the same – only you don’t have to see someone else peeing to feel the need. (thank goodness?) Now, I haven’t really figured out the biological advantage of needing to pee just because someone else is doing it. Maybe it’s a migratory thing. So your tribe is walking long distances, and someone stops to pee. You don’t. Later when you do need to pee . . . maybe you have only snake infested grass in which to go? Or the herd walks on? Maybe you are only allowed to pee when the clan leader says so? Clearly, I don’t have this one worked out yet. But it doesn’t change the fact that as humans we are susceptible to the suggestion to pee.
Though you might not have known this, you may have used this knowledge. Ever run water to help a little kid go? Or you may have been victim to it yourself. Some of us are more susceptible than others. My friend Lina is one of the very suggestible. She used to attend a class that was about 40 miles away from home. There were two routes to class . . . one route was five minutes longer, but the other route went past a urologist’s office about ten minutes after she left her house. This urologist’s sign was blue, and in the shape of a wave. That alone was such a suggestion to her poor brain that she couldn’t make it the remaining thirty-five minutes to class without having to stop and find a bathroom. Lina always took the longer route to class if she wanted to make it on time.
So imagine what happened the when she went out with us one day . . . we were on our way to ride a new roller coaster. Tatsu at Magic Mountain in LA was open at eight a.m. only for a select few. We stopped and got large coffees on the way. While there, we rode the coaster about five times. Magic Mountain provided water and orange juice for all the riders. It was a hot day and we drank plenty. Once the park filled up, we rode a few more coasters and decided to go see a new movie – Poseidon. In IMAX. We got popcorn and cokes. You can probably guess where this story is going for poor Lina. Every time water flowed across the deck of the cruise ship – in all its IMAX glory – Lina had to hit the ladies room. The rest of us laughed.
You may be laughing, too. But though some are more susceptible, all of us are to a certain extent. During graduate school, I was a TA for a physiology class. One lab we had frogs that we had injected with various drugs that would make them retain or lose water. But one of the students came up to me and asked about ‘the need to urinate’ and what was that tied to?
I explained all the physiology, but said as humans we were far more likely to have to go because of a suggestion than because of an actual need. He didn’t believe me. We checked around the class. With twenty students and six hours of lab there was usually one person per class who had to leave to pee. (Since, you always had to check with the TA before you left the lab for any reason, I was really sure this was a solid estimate.) I bet this student twenty dollars that five people would have to pee before the end of lab (about five hours from that point) maybe just from overhearing our soft conversation about the need to pee.
My student took that bet so fast my head spun. We weren’t even talking loudly, other conversations were going on in the lab. He even looked around, no one was paying any attention to us.
Sure enough, eight people had to be excused to have to pee – within the next hour! Grudgingly, my student came forward with a twenty. Though I was just a grad student myself and could have used it, it was dirty money. I knew what was going to happen and I wasn’t going to take his cash for something as certain as ‘the sun will rise tomorrow’. But I did smile my knowing smile. Then I had to tell my students that I was going to have to step out of lab for a minute, because I had to pee so bad!
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you need to go right now. Just saying.
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