The Toilet Paper Dilemma
You have probably never thought about how you orient your toilet paper, or even about the fact that there are two ways of orienting toilet paper. Most of us have a subconscious preference for the “Over” or the “Under” and set our toilet paper that way thousands of times throughout the course of our lives.
However, this is actually a very well studied question, and it’s worth taking the time to explore the world of toilet paper orientation.
Let’s start with the numbers. Hundreds of surveys have asked people about their toilet paper preferences, and while the results are not perfectly consistent, the general pattern is clear: a majority of people prefer “Over”.
Virtually all studies show 60–70% of people preferring “Over”, with the most recent and widely cited study, conducted in 2010 and announced at the 82nd Academy Awards, showing that 72% of people prefer “Over”.
Another survey on toilet paper preferences showed that ~50% of people pay active attention to toilet paper orientation, and that 20% of people get agitated if toilet paper is oriented the “wrong” way. Furthermore, 19% of people admit to having changed the way toilet paper is hanging in someone else’s house.
All in all, from what I can tell, there have been nearly 30 studies related to toilet paper over the last 30–40 years.
What your Toilet Paper Preference Says…
It turns out that the difference between the“Over” squad and “Under” squad may be greater than you think. A surprisingly large numbers of studies have tried to identify differences between those who prefer each of the possible orientations. Some of the key results include:
There is not a significant difference between genders in preference.
However, a study did find that men appear to be more agitated than women if a toilet paper roll is not placed according to their preference.
There does appear to be some noticeable differences in personality among each toilet paper group. According the “Toilet Paper Personality Test” survey of 2000 people, those who support “Over” tend to be more type-A and dominant while those who support “Under” tend to be more submissive and laid back.
This is somewhat exemplified by a finding from another study. While I told you before that 19% of people admit to having changed the toilet paper orientation at someone else’s house, “Over”s are much more likely to have done this, with nearly 27% having admitted to doing so.
Class and Politics
Another survey found that people making over $50,000 a year tend to prefer “Over”, while those making less than $20,000 a year prefer under. When asked what he thought of these results, the survey creator simply said “I don’t know, but it’s sure interesting.”
A teenage science fair supposedly found that liberal-leaning people tend to prefer “Over” while conservatives tend to prefer “Under”.
So, which is better?
Now that you know a little about who likes “Over” and “Under”, let’s explore some of the arguments for each side.
The case for “Over”
The original patent for toilet paper only shows “Over”.
Over reduces the chance you will scrape your hand on the wall or hit your hand on the toilet paper holder, resulting in a more efficient toilet paper pull, and reducing the chance for germs.
Over makes it easier for you to grab the toilet paper’s loose end, because you can more easily see what is going on.
Because “Over” allows for more flexible hand motion, it is easier to tear off the desired amount of toilet paper (pull straight out as far as you want, then pull slightly to the side to rip).
“Over” allows for fancy branding opportunities which show that a room has been serviced. This is a very common use case for hotels and cruises.
The Case for “Under”
“Under” supposedly provides a tidier, cleaner appearance.
“Under” reduces the risk of toilet paper unravelling in any sort of moving vehicle, or during an earthquake, due to the edge of the paper having less freedom to jiggle around and become loose.
“Under” reduces the chance that someone accidentally unravels a ton of toilet paper. In particular, it lowers the chance of children and pets (like cats) unraveling a lot of toilet paper.
“Under” is supposedly more economical. The difficulty of pulling out a large amount of paper leads in an “Under” orientation leads to people using less.
Toilet Paper and Society
As you might imagine, such a mundane, unimportant topic can lead to intense debate. The question of toilet paper orientation has long plagued society, and here’s a few of the funny cases where the topic has been debated, discussed, or touched on:
The South Pole
Toilet paper became a notable issue for researchers in the Amundsen–Scott Research Station of Antarctica, causing intense fights among scientists during their 6 month stay one winter.
Toilet paper orientation has actually been studied as a topic of contention among married couples. This book about marriage has a section devoted to it, and countless articles online such as this document couples having major fights about toilet paper orientation.
You might think this toilet paper debate is just some bullshit topic xojane writers talk about, but you’d be wrong. It has actually crept into the realm of academia.
- Professor Edgar Alan Burns of the Eastern Institute of Technology devotes 50 minutes of his first introductory sociology class every year to the topic.
- The Social Psychology course at Notre Dame spends time every semester talking about the toilet paper dilemma. It supposedly awakens the “sociological imagination”.
- Christopher Peterson’s, a professor from the University of Michigan, devoted two pages of his book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, to the topic.
- Professor Morton Ann Gernsbacher, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, wrote a book that mentions the topic.
Oprah prefers “Under” while Jay Leno prefers “Over”.
An advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times once made a column stating that she preferred “Under”. This article prompted people to write over 15,000 letters in response, making it the most responded to article she ever wrote in the 31 years her column was active.
The debate over toilet paper is so fierce that some people have tried to come up with novel solutions to the problem. This guy made a toilet paper holder that could swivel to either orientation. Other people just put a 2 (or more) rolls together, allowing the toilet-user to choose their favorite orientation.
Finally, some people have suggested that a sideways roll could solve the issue, but seriously, fuck that.
Me personally? I prefer the “Over”. What about you?