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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why Do I Have to Poop When Browsing, Redux

posted by on September 18 at 14:18 PM

This just in to the Dear Science mailbag:

Dear Science, I recently read your response to Bothered Bowels’ inquiry from 2/13/2008. Sadly, BB is not alone. I actually know several people who experience this same issue, most with #2, but others with #1. Indeed, it particularly occurs at Value Village, libraries, bookstores, and also when shopping to CD’s. I find your Pavlovian theory rather interesting and plausible, but I would like to be so bold as to add a comment. The common theme for BB and others like him/her seems to be situations that involve the act of browsing. Is there something relaxing about the process of roaming through large spaces while searching for non-specific items of marginal necessity that activates the parasympathetic nervous symptom and its associated “urges”? Or, could it be that people are more likely to have downed a cup of coffee shortly before entering one of these establishments? Thanks for your excellent column, Laurie


I like your theories as well. I almost always have to pee after public speaking—I figure from the loss of sympathetic tone from the relief of it finally being over allows my bladder to reassert itself.

Coffee is a sympathomimetic, forcing the activation of the wrong side of the autonomic nervous system. But it’s also a diuretic, causing you to have to pee. More research is warranted.

Thanks for reading and writing!

- Jonathan (aka Science)

(Don’t forget to check out the podcast for this column, one of my all-time favorites!)

RSS icon Comments


I get this feeling working on databases.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 18, 2008 2:27 PM

Wait, are you saying the coffee should not make you have to go "#2" because it is a sympathomimetic? That would be completely contrary to my experience. Coffee makes me go. Usually about half an hour to an hour later...

Posted by Julie in Chicago | September 18, 2008 2:31 PM

I have to poo before a rugby match, always. Even if I drop a big deuce at home first. It sucks because there aren't many porta-potties out at marymoore, and sometime there aren't any when we are away.

Posted by Jeremy from Seattle | September 18, 2008 2:32 PM

Caffeine in coffee is a sympathomimetic and should stop you from #1 and #2.

But, coffee also promotes both #1 and #2.

It's a quandary. I suspect it takes you an hour, just for the burst of caffeine to wear off, allowing the other parts of the coffee to take hold.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | September 18, 2008 2:34 PM

parasympathetic response... rest and digest!

Posted by tiffany | September 18, 2008 2:36 PM

Bookstores just have the comfiest bathrooms of all public places.

Posted by Chris in Tampa | September 18, 2008 2:56 PM

i don't drink coffee and never have. also no tea or pop, no reason, just don't care for them. and i too have not just the urge, but the need to go while browsing. maybe this is why i became a librarian.

i've always assumed it was because i find browsing to be deeply, physically relaxing. my mind is engaged to a degree that for once my clench-butt mode is over-ridden and my body relaxes, allowing everything to move those last few critical inches.

let face it, book people, whatever our other charms, tend to be tense in one way or another. and many compulsive book- or music-lovers will say that "this is the thing that always relaxes me." seems a given, a wonderful given.

i'd say more, but i gotta go!

Posted by cranky | September 18, 2008 3:02 PM

my sister has to poop whenever we talk on the phone. perhaps the bookstore is RELAXING.

Posted by max solomon | September 18, 2008 3:12 PM

#8 - Exactly. Especially if there's not a lot of people around.

Posted by Jen | September 18, 2008 4:22 PM

Coffee is not a diuretic at the doses most people consume.

Posted by Bob | September 18, 2008 6:17 PM

Could it be a form of operant conditioning? If, like me, these people keep a stack of reading material in their bathrooms for those quiet moments, maybe they've developed an unfortunate Pavlovian response to the sight of books and magazines.

Maybe I should move my mini-library out of the bathroom. I'd hate for that to happen to me ...

Posted by Brandon Burt | September 20, 2008 5:44 PM

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