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According to this newspaper article David Cameron has used this technique:

a source revealed that the Prime Minister was “desperate for a pee” during the marathon dinner summit in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels.

It is understood that Mr Cameron used his full bladder as a device to keep him focused for the nine-hour session. It’s not the first time the PM has used this rather unorthodox method. He did the same thing when he delivered his “no-notes” make-or-break speech to his party conference in 2007, which stopped Gordon Brown from calling a snap election and saved his own leadership.

Is having a full bladder an effective technique for staying focused?

  • I am vaguelly recalling a very similar question but can't seem to find it – user5341 Dec 13 '11 at 15:01
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    Funnily enough, Cameron has been wildly criticised because of his poor decision making in that context. – Sklivvz Dec 13 '11 at 15:17
  • I didn't find any similar questions when I searched this site. As an afterthought I've just searched Personal Productivity, didn't find anything similar there either. – Tom77 Dec 13 '11 at 15:18
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    If the task at hand is to pee, then yes, it helps. Otherwise it helps with focusing on wanting to pee. – user288 Dec 13 '11 at 17:02
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+50

TL;DR: People make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.

There are two pieces of research, one confirming, and the other denying benefits to cognition in relation to bladder control. The effect is known as the (I kid you not!) spillover effect.

The theory is that the impulse control exertion to avoid peeing can "spill over" to other domains and make people less prone to emotional decisions.

One landmark paper is "Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains" which apparently found benefits:

Visceral states are known to have a (detrimental) impact on our ability to exert self-control. In the current research, we investigate the impact of a visceral factor associated with inhibition, rather than with approach: bladder control. We argue that inhibitory signals are not domain specific, but can spill over to unrelated domains, resulting in increased impulse control in the behavioral domain.

The other masterpiece is "The effect of acute increase in urge to void on cognitive function in healthy adults" which instead found negative effects:

The magnitude of decline in cognitive function associated with an extreme urge to void was as large and equivalent or greater than the cognitive deterioration observed for conditions known to be associated with increased accident risk.

Conclusion: both papers won the 2011 IgNobel awards for Medicine :-)

MEDICINE PRIZE: Mirjam Tuk (of THE NETHERLANDS and the UK), Debra Trampe (of THE NETHERLANDS) and Luk Warlop (of BELGIUM). and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman (of the USA), Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff (of AUSTRALIA) for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.

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