Crucial for health, a key factor in environmental health and safety, design and sustainability, elimination needs must be a central concern for human societies.
Psychology in the Bathroom covers a wide range of topics relating to human elimination, from the cultural euphemisms we use for the toilet, such as ‘bathroom’ and ‘restroom’, and the scatological jokes and references that amuse, to more serious psychological abnormalities and physiological health concerns related to toileting.
On the theme of health and toileting, one of Professor Haslam’s key points is the relationship that the digestive processes have with our emotions and the physiological reasons for this.
He points out the almost constant communication that goes on between the brain and the gut, which also has its own nervous system that is sometimes known as the second brain, and looks at the psychological factors at play in the distressing disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
“Talking about what goes on in the bathroom is still taboo,” Professor Haslam explains, “which is a problem, and something this book attempts to address, given the fact that lifting that taboo could improve the lives of many.
“Problems with elimination, including anxieties, inhibitions and incontinence, are intimately connected to our personalities and emotions. They are remarkably common but under-researched. A lot of our difficulties discussing health issues related to elimination stem from a deep-seated shame and disgust, and the academic neglect of them may have the same basis.”
One of the most interesting chapters is ‘Toilet Graffiti’, which looks at the fascinating world of ‘latrinalia’, produced in a setting “that is an unusual mixture of private and public”.
Surprisingly, Professor Haslam says latrinalia has received a reasonable amount of coverage by researchers, who look at motivations, themes, styles, and gender differences among scribblers in the littlest room.
“All graffiti-writing requires a certain amount of secrecy,” Professor Haslam writes, “and bathroom stalls are more private than the spaces where other forms of graffiti are produced, allowing wall-scribblers more time and leisure to compose their messages.”
And while today those who maintain public bathrooms may seek to develop products for doors and walls that repel grafitti, this book points out that even in the age of the Roman writer Martial (about 101AD) “verses which people read as they ease themselves”, written in charcoal or chalk were already an established practice.
An entertaining but above all enlightening read, Psychology in the Bathroom has the capacity to bring out into the open, a discussion about a fundamentally human experience that deserves more serious attention.
Nick Haslam, Psychology in the Bathroom, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.