Game Theory and Leaving the Toilet Seat Down

toilet seat

Should the toilet seat be left up or down? Which is a more costly choice? Hammad Siddiqi, an enonomist, found the extant scholarly literature on the subject inadequate. In a math-heavy article, he explored additional issues that game theorists should address. In the introduction to this article, Siddiqi wrote:

However, both papers fail to address an important concern: 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 analysis in these papers is suspect.

In this paper, we internalize the cost of yelling and model the conflict as a non-cooperative game between two species, males and females.We find that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, to our dismay, we also find that the social norm of always leaving the toilet seat down after use is not only a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies but is also trembling-hand perfect. So, we can complain all we like, but this norm is not likely to go away.

All hope is not lost though. An important issue regarding social norms is whether they are created to increase welfare. Are they society’s response to market failures? One such norm is tipping for service quality. Azar (2003) has shown that the norm of tipping increases social welfare. In this paper, we show conclusively that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down after use decreases welfare and by doing that we hope to convince the reader that social norms are not always welfare enhancing. Hence, there is a case for scientifically examining social norms and educating the masses about the fallacy of following social norms blindly.

Link -via Joe Carter | Photo: macaron*macaron


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It is always important to train oneself to leave the seat down. That way, since most men do not leave the seat down, one will know if another man has been in your house.
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isn't it more efficient overall to leave it down, as most use occurs with the seat down unless there are more men than women using the toilet or the man is a heavier drinker than the woman?
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