The Ig Nobel Prizes set up an “improbable” trend

Started in 1991, the Ig Nobel prizes aim to “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”[1] They are awarded in categories similar to those of the Nobel Prizes. The prizes have created a trend to honor improbable research and spur people’s curiosity by awarding the studies that scientifically address hilarious topics. For instance, in 2013, the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond, on the condition that those people and that pond were on the moon. In 2012, the Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the study that explained why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people’s hair turned green!

In 2011, the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Dr. Robert Pietrzak of the Yale School of Medicine, for his study “The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults.” The aim of the study was to test the effects of voluntary inhibition of urination on cognitive processes. According to Dr. Pietrzak, they thought about this study “when considering various challenges that may affect cognitive function,” as their research group has also examined the effects of alcohol intoxication, sleep deprivation, and various medications on cognitive function. Eight young and healthy adults drank 250ml water every 15 minutes until they could no longer voluntarily inhibit voiding. They were then instructed to rate their subjective desire to void and the amount of pain or discomfort experienced on a visual analogue scale.

Results showed that an increase in the amount of water consumed and time of inhibition of urge to void led to an increase in the sensations of pain and urge to void, as well as a significantly negative effect on attention and working memory function. However, after urination, the cognitive functions returned to their normal levels. “What I find most interesting about this study is that the impact of an extreme urge to void on cognitive function (attention and working memory) was equivalent to that observed following in healthy adults with 0.05% blood alcohol concentration or those who are fatigued following 24 hours of sustained wakefulness,” said Dr. Pietrzak.

Every year since 1991, the Ig Nobel prizes are awarded during the months of September and October – a trend that now many in the scientific community look forward to, as a celebration of the idea that scientific methodology can be used to answer any question. While the Ig Nobel prizes continue to celebrate the humor in science, they sure make us wonder how even the most absurd-sounding idea can be scientifically evaluated.


  1. Winners of Ig Nobel Prize, Accessed 31st October 2013.