Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, investigating into why women leave used teabags lying around in saucers, have turned existing thinking on its head.
Professor of Psychology Joydeep Bhattacharya said: ‘It always appeared so obvious that women indulge in this practice as a form of revenge for the socks, underpants, cups, beer cans and so on that men leave lying around in a domestic situation that no one thought to question it. The classical revenge theory, one of the cornerstones of our understanding of cohabitation dynamics, has been swept away.’
He said that the real reason was more subtle. ‘It turns out that leaving teabags in saucers instead of putting them in the bin, strangely irritating even to men with a high domestic squalor threshold, is actually a distraction technique used as a cover for hiding things.’
His colleague, Dr Elisabeth Hill, confirmed the findings. ‘We’ve all seen men unable to find the chips in the freezer because a woman has moved them from the third drawer down to the fourth, or incapable of seeing the butter on the fridge shelf because the wording is upside down. I’ve seen men empty an entire cupboard looking for something that is in a different colour packet from the usual.’
Dr Hill said that the distraction techniques doubled hiding success rates. ‘This kind of practice is well known to stage illusionists. By making someone look in the wrong direction or putting a distracting idea in their head, you make absolutely sure that they miss the sleight of hand that puts the ‘magic’ into the trick.’
Prof Bhattacharya said that while these findings were a great step forward, they still didn’t explain why women were hiding things in the first place.
Dr Hill laughed. ‘Oh as revenge for the socks, underpants, cups, beer cans and so on of course. If we can’t get you to behave better than toddlers when it comes to tidying up, we might as well get some pleasure out of watching you search for something that’s in front of your face.’