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A Sip of Conflict

A Sip of Conflict
Do you dare drink from a toilet?

Would you, could you, will you drink from a water fountain fashioned from an actual—but unused—toilet? Porcelain is just porcelain . . . right? 

What’s going on?

A popular and eww-inspiring photo op, this simple psychology exhibit plumbs the depths of human irrationality as it flushes out the internal struggle between reason and gut-level reaction.

And just in case you were wondering: The placement of this exhibit—next to an actual restroom—is no accident.

Microscopic image of ecoli bacteriaRod-shaped coliform bacteria are abundant in mammalian fecal matter, but are not necessarily harmful. Irrational fear of contamination has an official name: mysophobia. Photo courtesy of NIAID. (click image to enlarge)

Going further

Many have speculated that this popular exhibit is a coy reference to conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 artwork, Fountain, a porcelain urinal. When asked to confirm this rumor, our exhibit developer replied, “Duchamps? Who’s that?”

External resources

Abstract of Ma, J. 2012. “Listening for Self-Reflective Talk in Visitors’ Conversations: A Case Study of the Exploratorium's Mind Collection.” Visitor Studies 15 (2): 136–156.

Taste Testing Without Smell.”

IMLS acknowledgment

This web project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0175-16].