This is the real reason why running water makes you need to pee

You’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s not a bathroom in sight. Then, suddenly, you hear it. Running water. You’re not sure where it’s coming from or why it’s there, but it feels as though it’s all around you. You are being sadistically showered by a stream of water as your bladder betrays you.

At one time or another, we’ve all been in a pee-related pickle that’s caused by running water. But why? Why do our bodies go into Bathroom Mode the moment we hear water drip-dropping nearby?


Psychologists and urologists (scientists focused on the urinary tract) believe it all has to do with the associations set up in our minds. According to Sci Show, we’re conditioned to connect the sound of running water with the process of peeing.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov provided us with the perfect example. During the 1890s, he studied dogs and their responses to external stimuli. Pavlov would create an unconditioned response: he’d acquire some meat powder, place it before a dog, and get the pup to start drooling. Afterward, Pavlov would ring a bell and feed the dog. He did this for several months.


The next part of the dog/meat powder experiment involved conditioned responses. Without involving any meat powder, Pavlov would ring a bell (as he did before) and the dog would begin to salivate. Why? Because the canine mentally associated a specific sound (the ringing bell) with an act (being fed). This then led to a conditioned response: slobbering.

We can take Pavlov’s experiment and apply the same idea to our running water response. Essentially, the bathroom is a place filled with water-related sounds. There’s the sound of peeing, of toilets flushing, of us washing our hands, and of the water falling from the showerhead. These function as the sound portion of this setup, while being reminded of the bathroom is the act and needing to pee is the conditioned response.


Since no extensive studies have been conducted on this topic, it’s important to note that this is just a theory (but a really great one). In the past, doctors have successfully helped prostate surgery patients and those with paruresis (“shy bladder syndrome”) pee by using the sound of running water.

Some even believe that this response can also apply to pictures of gushing water. If that’s the case, then we totally understand if you need to take a bathroom break right now.

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