Mental anguish. Hesitance. Doubt. Contentment. Regret.
These are things that often accompany the decision you are forced to make every time you go to a public bathroom. Which stall do you choose?
It’s a huge issue.
I face this dilemma whenever I head to the bathroom at work or uni (sometimes for the bathroom … sometimes because I’m bored and want to sit somewhere and check Facebook/Instagram or clock my tinder swipes for the day).
It’s nerve wracking.
It’s a mind game, especially if there are others around. Hesitance in the form of awkward back-stepping or last second stall changes are cringe and judgment-inducing experiences. It’s sign of weakness.
Regardless of how I may describe it, the stall decision is something I probably dwell on more than I ought to.
But if you’re anything like me, the considerations are quite simple.
Which stall is going to hold the nicest toilet.
And if we’re drawing the necessary inference from that, we mean – which one is likely to have been used the least.
And therefore, which one will we be happy (or, you know – not mortified) to park our asses on.
Well friends, the real factor we need to consider is the sophistication and reasoning of other bathroom users, and therefore how we can outsmart them and secure the ideal toilet.
Now, we could assume that others don’t really consider the question of the ideal toilet and just pick randomly.
This trumps the whole idea of outsmarting others, because in this case all stalls would be used equally and as a result, we wouldn’t be able to cheat the system.
But really? As if people don’t think about it (at least a little).
So now, we tend towards the assumption that the average person deliberately picks their toilet stall. And therefore, we need to be one step ahead of the average person’s thinking.
An average person may likely think that the closest stall is the least used. Why? Well, generally speaking, the furthest stall is considered to be the most private and therefore most people would tend to head there. This means that to the average, decision-making bathroom goer, the closer stall would be the least-used and therefore the preferred option.
So what do we do?
We pick the opposite. We should actually pick the furthest stall because most decision-maker’s assumptions will lead them to the closest.
It seems to make sense. Until you think a little further – what if the average bathroom-goer is smarter than we assume?
What if they come to the exact same conclusion we did – that most people think the closest stall is the least used and therefore the furthest stall is actually the desirable choice.
If the average bathroom-goer thinks like we just did, then we have to be one step ahead again – the best strategy for us is to go the opposite again, and actually pick the closest stall.
Picking the best strategy gets tricky.
But, the answer is contingent on how many steps ahead we’d consider the average person to usually think.
And according to social scientist Dan Ariely, the answer is one.
So therefore – the answer here is that most people assume the furthest stall is the most used and therefore go with the opposite and pick the closer stall.
That means we have to implement an opposite of the opposite strategy – and actually selected the furthest stall.
That’s the answer – the furthest stall.
In concluding this post, I hope I’ve imbued in you some valuable lessons about competitive decision-making.
Above all, I hope I’ve fucked with your head and given you something intriguing to think about next time you’re heading to the bathroom.
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