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Two scientists spent six hours locked in a public toilet in the name of research

Having to listen to other people’s toilet habits for a day? There’s no way those scientists were paid enough.

Toilet picture posed by model.
Toilet picture posed by model.
Image: toilet via Shutterstock

PUBLIC BATHROOMS ARE unpleasant enough as it is, so spare a thought for two scientists who voluntarily spent HOURS locked inside one – all in the name of research.

The researchers – one male and one female  - hid out in a toilet cubicle in the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms respectively at a US university to find out a) how long people spent using the toilet and b) how long they wash their hands for afterwards.

So basically, the very things that you don’t want anyone to keep track of when you’re in the bathroom.

The researchers apparently had a “customised wooden bench” for their comfort –  so they didn’t have to make do with a ceramic throne – and they each remained in one of the three cubicles in the respective bathrooms from 10 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

And what was the point of the research, you may (sensibly) ask? Well, men generally wash their hands less conscientiously than women, so the researchers wanted to find out why.

The researchers had stopwatches to time how long people um, made use of the toilet for and then also how long they washed their hands for.

They found that more than 90 per cent of the women washed their hands afterwards, compared to just under 60 per cent of the men who used a urinal. Men who used a cubicle, however were more likely to wash their hands (but still did it less frequently than women).

The results suggested that men wash their hands less not because of gender norms which associate cleanliness more with women, but rather because of the differences in the toilet environment – in other words, whether it’s a urinal or a cubicle.

The researchers tried to find out if men washed their hands more thoroughly after being in a cubicle because they’d just been pooing, or because they perceived cubicles to be more dirty than urinals, but their results were inconclusive.

Instead, they found that men washed their hands for far longer – as opposed to just more often – depending on which part of the bathroom they’d been in. So men who had been defecating were more likely to wash their hands, while men who had just been peeing either in a cubicle or a urinal, were less likely to do it.

Overall, the researchers, led by Thomas Berry of Christopher Newport University in Virginia, said that everyone needs to be washing their hands more, with neither gender washing their hands for long enough.

So if you’ve ever been paranoid about who is lurking inside that mystery cubicle that has been locked all day, no need to worry: it’s probably just a scientist making notes about everything you do in there. Phew.

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