Friday, November 23, 2007

The cost of social norms: The inefficiency in putting the toilet seat down 

An economist proves that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient:

The issue of whether the toilet seat should be left up or down after use seemingly generates a lot of passion among the parties concerned, however, scientific inquiries into the matter are almost non-existent. Notable exceptions are Choi (2002) and Harter (2005). Choi (2002) argues that the rule of leaving the toilet seat down after use is inefficient in the sense that there is at least one other rule that outperform this rule. The unit of analysis in Choi (2002) is the household and the efficient rule is defined as one that minimizes the total cost of toilet seat operations per household. Choi (2002) does not model the issue as a situation of conflict, hence ignores the game theoretic aspects of the problem. Harter (2005) models the situation as a cooperative game and proposes a contract that splits the costs of toilet seat operations evenly among the parties. Both papers agree that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down in inefficient in the sense that it does not minimize the total cost of toilet seat operations per household. However, both papers fail to address an important concern: If a female finds the toilet seat in a wrong position then she will most probably yell at the male involved. This yelling inflicts a cost on the male. Based on this omission, women may argue that the analysis in these papers is suspect.

In this paper, we internalize the cost of yelling and model the conflict as a non-cooperative game between two species, males and females.We find that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, to our dismay, we also find that the social norm of always leaving the toilet seat down after use is not only a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies but is also trembling-hand perfect. So, we can complain all we like, but this norm is not likely to go away.

Emphasis, er, added.

If you are an economist, or a man, read the whole thing.

Comments from all genders are welcome.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 24, 12:39:00 AM:

I saw a toilet seat covor for christmas it showed santa with his had over his eyes when thetoilet seat is open  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 24, 04:00:00 AM:

Although toilet seat "up" as the default makes more sense, all it takes is one late-night surprise porcelin plunge and the resultant scolding to remind one that sometimes reason isn't worth the trouble.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Nov 24, 06:30:00 AM:

Jim - PRS,

Yeah. And the situation around our house has gotten a lot worse since my son decided to board at school this year -- now I am substantially outnumbered by females, and the dynamic around all these issues is shifting. Soon it will be a question of entitlement, and then I am dead.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 24, 09:52:00 AM:

Apart from probably being the stupidest subject in the world, there's certainly an interesting twist to it.

There seems to be a huge contingent of people who think women want the toilet seat left down, yet I've lived with landladies and girlfriends and, to a person, they want the toilet seat left UP. That's the only way they know you lifted it before peeing.

The lid, of course, is another matter, and I've had more than one landlady ask me to put the lid down when finished, just because it gives the bathroom a tidier look, but that's different.

The only reason I can think of why someone might believe women want the toilet seat left down is because females are so stupid that they'll sit down on the toilet without first looking to see if the seat is raised or lowered. Therefore, they always want it left down, just so they don't have to make this crucial, brain-draining decision that's obviously way beyond their mental capacities. What other reason could there be?

"Comments from all genders are welcome."

The Transexual Society of America thanks you for your consideration. :)  

By Blogger Mystery Meat, at Sat Nov 24, 10:06:00 AM:

I was pretty much an agnostic on the subject of the toilet seat being up or down. Then, I got up late one night to get a drink of water. There was an earthquake. The toilet seat fell down and hit me in the back of the neck. I became a "seat must be down" believer.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 24, 10:22:00 AM:

I've always left both the seat and the lid down, ever since a friend told me that every time you flush, you unleash a fine mist of... poo water.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 24, 11:54:00 AM:

Geez, toilet seat adjustment is one of the very few ways we can fight against political correctness. Sure, the quest for domestic tranquility forces us to comply with the norm AT HOME. But, out in the world, where uni-sex bathrooms are much more common (jury duty last month), I take a much more utilitarian approach. I can use the facility, no matter where the seat is. If other users want to assure that the seat is unspritzed when they want to use it, then THEY had better raise it when they are finished.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 24, 04:55:00 PM:

Anonymous: Your mini dissertation exemplifies the tragedy of the commons.

TH: When one has a stake in domestic harmony, the default down position will cover a multitude of sins.

Jim - PRS: the "late-night surprise porcelain plunge" is the dance of death. And you are a poet.

Study designers: Survival of the fittest doesn't necessarily mean efficiency. More often than not, reproductive success is an art form: Think bower birds.  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Sun Nov 25, 06:34:00 PM:

It is a matter of manners. By putting the seat down, you are expressing to your beloved bride that you respect her wishes in Potty Proper Placement. And cleaning leaves out of the gutters. And putting air in the tires when they look "squishy" even though they're only a little bit low. And taking out the trash when the pile gets more than a foot above the can even after being stomped down. Which reminds me...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 25, 11:41:00 PM:

Of course this is all a cultural thing. My chinese wife has never heard of it. (And I'm not telling her.)  

By Blogger RandomThoughts, at Tue Nov 27, 02:15:00 PM:

When one really thinks about it, leaving the seat down does save time and energy. Women require the lid down 100% of the time. Men require the lid down probably 10% of the time so by leaving it down, we satisfy the women all of the time and men some of the time.

If you leave it up, both men and women have to put it down at times.

Of course, there could be certain times that would require a shift in thinking (sporting events requiring the consumption of beer) depending on the situation.)

Of course, young boys in the house also could change the equation, as 8 year old boys tend not to be concerned with the lid being up or down at 11pm (although they usually are under adult supervision at this point, because for them, the waste can looks a whole lot like a toilet when awakened from a deep sleep)

Mostly leaving it down should be considered the norm.  

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