On Toilet Seat Dilemma

As a male, it is natural for me to ask, “What is it with women and toilet seats?” The question may seem pretty inane to most readers. It is not! After my little research (Googling), I realized the correct answer to the question, the one that suits your female partner if you are a male in a relationship, could prolong your relationship.

Come on, guys! Maybe it’s time to be a little more considerate. Like paying attention to the little things.

As a professional speaker, I lead seminars on personal relationships. In our discussions of “paying attention to the little things,” taking the garbage out, leaving the toilet seat up and rolling the toilet paper the wrong way (among other things) seem to almost always creep into the conversation.

Although we may laugh at such trivial things, the truth is, it is important to our partners to do the little things consistently. It shows them we value and respect them.

Above is the opinion of some Mr. Larry James.

Apart from dealing it as a social issue, the “toilet seat dilemma” has raised some serious technological and mathematics/economics research.

On technology front, the problem has given birth to some great inventions, e.g., in the following pictures:

The Toilet of the Future!

Considerate Toilet Seat!

The one in the above picture is given an apt name, “the considerate toilet seat,” and is invented by one Tim Seniuk. It goes down automatically after about two minutes. This $37 investment could save your relationship!

Mathematicians never stay behind the innovators and social scientists, and they have dealt the problem rigorously, asking the question, “Is leaving the toilet seat up (or down) efficient or inefficient?”

Choi [1] tries to answer the above question as follows: An efficient rule in a household is the one that minimizes the total cost of toilet seat operations. Choi then goes on to to prove that 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 outperforms this rule. In this case, the issue is not modeled as a situation of conflict, hence the game theoretic aspects of the problem are ignored.

Harter [2] models the situation as a cooperative game and proposes a contract that splits the costs of toilet seat operations evenly among the parties. This paper too concludes 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, 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 analyses in above papers are suspect.

In a recent attempt to tackle the problem in light of the above omitted situation, Hammad Siddiqi [3], internalizes the cost of yelling and models the conflict as a non-cooperative game between two species, males and females. He too finds that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, he also finds that this norm of always leaving the toilet seat down after use is not only a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies but is also a trembling-hand perfect equilibrium. So, he argues that we can complain all we like, but this norm is not likely to go away! To the dismay of poor male! 😦

Siddiqi concludes that the “man”kind may feel vindicated for these mathematical findings. The “woman”kind may keep doing/thinking what she has been — forcing men to put the seats down — as the model turns out to be in a trembling-hand perfect equilibrium, thus the norm being unlikely to go away.


[1]. Choi, P., (2002), “Up or down? A male economist’s manifesto on the toilet seat etiquette.” Michigan State Working Paper

[2]. Harter, R., (2005), “A game theoretic approach to the toilet seat problem.” Science Creative Quarterly

[3]. Siddiqi H., (2007), “The social norm of leaving the toilet seat down: A game theoretic analysis.” Science Creative Quarterly


1 thought on “On Toilet Seat Dilemma”

  1. I use indian style toilets!

    BTW, going by some logic, toilet seat kept down is less chaotic and more in sync with the nature’s elements than kept up. You’ve to expend unnecessary energy working against the gravitational forces to keep it up. Moreover the disturbance in the air particles to transmit the sound when the seat comes down by itself is a wasteful conversion of energy from human ATP molecules to potential to sound energy in that it’s not useful, neither pleasing.

    So use Indian style and let the force from your intestines do the talking than the toilet seats.

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