Tuk and her fellow authors conducted four studies which suggest that our unconscious efforts at self-control (in this case over the urge to urinate) are not only directed at the main task, but can affect other controls in a positive way, and with enormous potential. For example, the second study required two sets of participants to make a simple financial decision – receive a small amount of money now or a larger amount later. The set of participants with full bladders were less inclined to opt for the impulsive choice to take the money now. Their self-control was higher, along with their bladder levels.
The final study determined that external cues – a soft waterfall, dripping tap, or young child whining for a toilet, for example - could produce greater sensations of bladder control, which in turn could influence participants’ overall self-control. “It suggests a waterfall feature in your neighbourhood mall can make the shoppers more controlled,” Tuk says, with a warning that cunning mall managers may also install more toilets.
Controlling other urges
She says although the research – entitled "Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains" - may be open to clever marketing ploys, it is more about positives than negatives. “Hunger, for example, has been found to make people more impulsive and focused on the now, for reward,” she says. “From a baseline, this research can only make you less impulsive.”
Tuk believes her work and subsequent research may eventually lead to answers for controlling serious impulsive human conditions like eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse and gambling addiction. “It’s an honour for academics to receive this award,” she says. “It’s a recognition that our work is getting a lot of attention in the press and the outside world, and that’s something valued by academics. It’s also a recognition of originality and creativity.”
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