Game Theory Solves the Toilet Seat Problem

Of course it would take a game theorist–someone who studies how people interact in strategic situations–to  solve the age-old problem of whether guys should put the toilet seat down.

In his paper, “A Game Theoretic Approach to the Toilet Seat Problem,” Richard Harter breaks down the question into its essentials:

John: ( p – 1/2)pC
Marsha: pC/2
Total: (p^2)C

I can’t really explain to you what any of that means, except to tell you the rule of thumb Harter’s come up with after doing an impressive amount of math is this: Guys can leave the seat up in the morning after going #1, but in the evening, they should put it down.

The main reason he gives for the evening turn down is to spare the wife a “middle of the night surprise.”

In my house, my wonderful husband leaves the seat down. He had an older sister growing up. Readers: What’s your system? And does it work for you?

Posted in game theory, strategy

10 Responses to Game Theory Solves the Toilet Seat Problem

  1. Stand-up Artist says:

    The answer depends on the toilet. If it is used more times by men than women, then it should be left up. This will mean it has to be touched less.
    So in a house with a majority of men, or a house with a guy who has to go a lot, it should be left up.
    Of course, this assumes that putting the seat up is as costly to a man as putting it down is for a woman.

    Ladies, if you don’t want the seat peed on then put it up after you have finished. Just in case.

  2. Louise says:

    Our solution is both of us put the lid down after every use. This has two advantages.

    1. It feels fair. Everybody has to both lift and lower something for every use. It is almost exactly the same effort for my husband to lift both lid and seat as it is for me to lift just the lid.

    2. It keeps the dog from drinking out of the toilet.

    • Paula says:

      3. It keeps the baby from playing with the toilet water (this was a new discovery for me).

      • Careless says:

        Yes, a few weeks ago my toddler put an entire roll of toilet paper into the bowl, one sheet at a time.

        On the subject, I’ve never had a problem remembering to put the seat down when their are women around. I do leave it up when my wife is gone for extended periods.

  3. Harrison B says:

    Keep the seat down. It’s one the cheapest ways to show my wife I’m thinking of her.

  4. tsprad says:

    Like Louise, we agreed when we moved in together to always put the lid down. That way both are equally inconvenienced, neither is giving in, and no one need fear falling into the water (do women really close their eyes and approach the toilet walking backwards?). After 23 years I’m startled when I see an open toilet.

    This may be the only aspect of our marriage that has worked out well.

  5. twicker says:

    Simple solution (courtesy of Men’s Health magazine; I forget which issue):
    Always down — and, more importantly, with the lid closed — pre-flush.


    Because flushing causes a small but detectable amount of spray. With the lid down, the water and other particulate matter gets trapped at the toilet; with the lid up, it can find its way onto sinks, towels, toothbrushes, etc.

    So, close the lid before flushing. The fact that your wife (or, in my case, fiancee) appreciates it? Gravy, man; pure gravy.

    (FYI, here’s a discussion from the Naked Scientists all about the issue of the bacterial plume)

  6. Katie says:

    I’m with twicker above. We all now put it down to minimize spray from flushing. Used to be to keep babies from playing in it.

    However, it never bugged me for it to be up. (I also don’t care which way the toilet paper goes over the roll, sandwich cutting directions, and the like.) I did grow up with 2 brothers, so I guess I got used to looking before sitting. I find the assertion that men “should” put the seat down kinda weird. Why, exactly, would I care?

  7. M. Davidson says:

    It is obvious that none of you are in the menopause years when women’s urges become more than urgent. An open toilet can sometimes mean the difference between relief and embarrassment!

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