Why Do I Have to Poop When Browsing, Redux

Sep 18th, 2008 | By | Category: Response to Critique

This just in to the Dear Science mailbag:

Dear Science,

I recently read your response to Bothered Bowels’ inquiry from 2/13/2008. Sadly, BB is not alone. I actually know several people who experience this same issue, most with #2, but others with #1. Indeed, it particularly occurs at Value Village, libraries, bookstores, and also when shopping to CD’s. I find your Pavlovian theory rather interesting and plausible, but I would like to be so bold as to add a comment.

The common theme for BB and others like him/her seems to be situations that involve the act of browsing. Is there something relaxing about the process of roaming through large spaces while searching for non-specific items of marginal necessity that activates the parasympathetic nervous symptom and its associated “urges”?

Or, could it be that people are more likely to have downed a cup of coffee shortly before entering one of these establishments?

Thanks for your excellent column,


I like your theories as well. I almost always have to pee after public speaking–I figure from the loss of sympathetic tone from the relief of it finally being over allows my bladder to reassert itself.

Coffee is a sympathomimetic, forcing the activation of the wrong side of the autonomic nervous system. But it’s also a diuretic, causing you to have to pee. More research is warranted.

Thanks for reading and writing!

– Jonathan (aka Science)

(Don’t forget to check out the podcast for this column, one of my all-time favorites!)

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  1. Jonathan,

    I think it’s a relaxation response. I love art stores, libraries and bookstores. I feel very happy and relaxed in these places. That’s where the “urge” strikes me. Browsing at Home Depot doesn’t do it, even if I am looking around.

  2. It’s not the coffee. I’ve had this problem since highschool. #2 And still today(I’m 35), every time I’m in a library or a bookstore, I have to go. If I’m REALLY quick in the library I can make it, but in, say, Barnes and Noble, I don’t have a chance. Coffee is never involved.

  3. I don’t think it’s a relaxation response. I think it has something to do with smells. I’ve experienced this phenomenon since I was a small child, and would visit libraries, thrift stores, and antique stores with my parents. Browsing these stores was not necessarily relaxing for me…. in fact, I was usually quite bored and anxious to leave. But, every time (even to this day), I enter a book store, library, thrift store, or antique store, I have the immediate urge to poop.
    Oh, and I don’t drink coffee.

  4. Me too. Libraries and when I’m looking at empty apartments.

  5. So I have had to poop every time I go to a bookstore, library, video store, record store, etc. ever since I was a kid. Thrift stores and antiques stores sometimes set it off, and even browsing on amazon can have an associated response.It’s not the smell of paper or bindings or any Pavlovian responses. It’s obviously a neural short circuit, similar to why we have to sneeze when we see a bright light. The voltage down the optic nerve leeks into the area of the brain that controls the sneeze reflex, setting off a false alarm.

    The area of the brain activated by browsing probably sits adjacent to the neural potty-processor. The enhanced electrical stimulation in that area of the brain inadvertently bleeds over and stimulates the potty-processor. It’s that simple.

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