"How we pee" is pretty right-on. Funny how guys go into "civil in attention." Everything We Know About Human Bathroom Behavior The anthropologist Horace Miner once wrote about the Nacirema, a strange North American people he said all perform the exact same set of rituals in communal “shrine rooms,” but pretend to be doing it in almost totalsecret. He of course was making fun of Americans in public bathrooms, and the common practices that go on inside that are actually pretty weird when you think about them. Why, for example, is talking generally frowned upon? Why do those two-roll dispensers in stalls always run out at the same time? Why do guys spit inurinals? To shed light on these mysteries, Science of Us combed through mountains of research on bathroom behavior and uncovered some revealing findings, from the most popular kinds of wall graffiti, to the gender dynamics of pee-formance anxiety, to important insights on the great under-over toilet-paper debate. Consider it the perfect reading material for when naturecalls. HOW PEOPLE CHOOSE THEIR STALL ORURINAL Who chooses which stall, according to a survey of bathroomgoers’ habits: If presented with three empty stalls,men: Go left 28 percent of the time. Go straight ahead 40 percent of the time. Go to the right 32 percent of the time. Presented with that same trio,women: Go left 34 percent of thetime. Go straight ahead 29 percent of the time. Go to the right 37 percent of the time. But when the left stall is occupied,men: Now head to the far right 73 percent of thetime Women, under the samecircumstance: Also move the far right 65 percent of thetime Given a line of identical options, people “reliably prefer the middle one.” The problem is stalls or urinals in a line are rarely truly identical, and men tend to opt for whatever’s closest to the door, while women gravitate to those farther fromit. HOW PEOPLE PEE Men treat other men like objects. According to Erving Goffman’s seminal 1963 Behavior in Public Places, running into a friend in the bathroom often causes buddies to pay each other civil inattention — “enough visual notice to demonstrate that one appreciates that the other is present … while at the next moment withdrawing one’s attention from him so as to express that he does not constitute a target of special curiosity or design” — but running into them at the urinal dictates nonperson treatment, or pretending your friend’s part of the surroundings, an object “not worthy of a glance.” (Goffman said that talking is permitted as long as it’s done like you’re addressing the wall or no one inparticular.) Men also must abide by tons of unwritten rules. One academic codified the etiquette this way: “Do not stand directly next to another man at another urinal.” “Do not look at another user during urination, and, if possible, keep conversation to an absolute minimum.” “If you shake it more than twice, you’re playing withit.” Men get pee-formance anxiety; women, not so much. There are two social phobias men have at a much higher rate than women: returning something to the store, and peeing in a public bathroom. And the closer men are to another person, the longer it takes them to get the flow going: In one study, the authors monitored a row of three urinals and clocked an average of 4.9 seconds if the subject was all alone, 6.2 if there was a one-urinal buffer, and 8.4 at closerange. A bull’s-eye can help reduce splatter. Putting a fly decal on the urinal can reduce spillage by as much as 80percent. Territorial men like to spit into the urinal before peeing. “It’s a way to appear stronger and mark your space,” says Boise State sociologist Robert McCarl. “Males are more concerned about turf than women are. You get a group of males together, and there is a lot of posturing goingon.” Women are more likely to duck into the men’s room than vice versa. But only because their lines arelonger. HOW PEOPLE BEHAVE IN BATHROOM STALLS Stalls become a temporary hideout. According to a classic paper about bathroom rituals, bathroomgoers “may lay claim to any unoccupied stall in the bathroom,” but “once such a claim is laid, once the door to the stall is closed, it istransformed into the occupying individual’s private, albeit temporary, retreat.” Talking across stalls is a definite no-no — unless you’re female, in which case, according to these authors, it acts as a confessional in a sacredplace. Nobody likes an audience while defecating. In the above study, researchers never managed to observe a person pooping in an unenclosed toilet (but in some parts of the world, women don’t have much choice). On average, women spend twice as long as men do on the toilet. That’s according to toilet expert Chuck Gerba; another study found women outlast men by an average of 61.5seconds. But women really don’t like sitting on the toilet. Only 2 percent of women say they sit directly on the toilet seat in public restrooms; 85 percent hover, or “crouch,” as the paper putit. People like to do some business while they’re doing their business. Seventy-five percent of people use their phones in the bathroom; 63 percent have answered a call, 41 percent have initiated a call, and 10 percent have “made an online purchase.” As a result, as many as one in six cell phones might be contaminated by poo. Which calls to mind a related factoid: that 8 percent of people also admit they’ve eaten in thebathroom. They do it differently in Europe. Stall architecture varies from culture to culture, according to Cornell architecture professor Alexander Kira: European water closets are fully enclosed, while the standard design for American stalls is two five-foot walls and a door that start a foot from the ground.