Ig Nobel Prize: Humor and Science

Logo, Ig Nobel prizes – 2011.

Since 1991 the Ig Nobel Prizes, which are based as a parody of the Nobel Prizes, have aimed to “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” This past year, the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Robert Pietrzak, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, for his study, “The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults.” The team of researchers included scientists from biotechnology company CogState Ltd., the University of Melbourne, and Brown University.

The aim of the study was to test the effects of voluntary inhibition of urination on cognitive processes. According to Pietrzak, they created this study “when considering various challenges that may affect cognitive function.” Eight young and healthy adults drank 250 milliliters of water every 15 minutes until they could no longer voluntarily inhibit voiding. Using visual analogue scales, they rated their subjective desire to void and the amount of pain or discomfort experienced. Pietrzak also used a brief battery of computerized cognitive tests to assess the subjects.

Results showed that an increase in the amount of water consumed and inhibition time of urge to void led to not only an increase in the sensations of pain and urge to void, but also a significantly negative effect on attention and working memory function. After urination, however, the cognitive functions returned to their normal levels. Interestingly, Pietrzak and his team were able to conclude that subjects experiencing the extreme urge to void had the same cognitive functions as those of “healthy adults with 0.05% blood alcohol concentration or those who are fatigued following 24 hours of sustained wakefulness.”