Inhibitory spillover: increased urination urgency facilitates impulse control in unrelated domains

Psychol Sci. 2011 May;22(5):627-33. doi: 10.1177/0956797611404901. Epub 2011 Apr 5.


Visceral states are known to reduce the ability to exert self-control. In the current research, we investigated how self-control is affected by a visceral factor associated with inhibition rather than with approach: bladder control. We designed four studies to test the hypothesis that inhibitory signals are not domain-specific but can spill over to unrelated domains, resulting in increased impulse control in the behavioral domain. In Study 1, participants' urination urgency correlated with performance on color-naming but not word-meaning trials of a Stroop task. In Studies 2 and 3, we found that higher levels of bladder pressure resulted in an increased ability to resist impulsive choices in monetary decision making. We found that inhibitory spillover effects are moderated by sensitivity of the Behavioral Inhibition System (Study 3) and can be induced by exogenous cues (Study 4). Implications for inhibition and impulse-control theories are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cues
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Stroop Test
  • Time Factors
  • Urination / physiology*
  • Young Adult