Do You Swear A Lot?

Profanity is language, which, in some social settings, is considered inappropriate and unacceptable. It often refers to language that contains sexual references, blasphemy or other taboo terms and is usually related to the expression of emotions such as anger, frustration or surprise. But profanity can also be used to entertain and win over audiences. Writing in the journal ‘Social Psychological and Personality Science’ a team of researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and Hong Kong report that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated with lying and deception. In fact, psychologists say that people who frequently curse are being more honest. As dishonesty and profanity are both considered deviant they are often viewed as evidence of low moral standards. Dr David Stillwell, a lecturer in Big Data Analytics at the University of Cambridge, and a co-author on the paper, says: “The relationship between profanity and dishonesty is a tricky one. Swearing is often inappropriate but it can also be evidence that someone is telling you their honest opinion. Just as they aren’t filtering their language to be more palatable, they’re also not filtering their views.” In the study, 276 participants were asked to list their most commonly used and favourite swear words. They were also asked to rate their reasons for using these words and then took part in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable. Those who wrote down a higher number of curse words were less likely to be lying. A second survey involved collecting data from 75,000 Facebook users to measure their use of swear words in their online social interactions. The research found that those who used more profanity were also more likely to use language patterns that have been shown in previous research to be related to honesty.

Swearing seems to have one more quality, a beneficial one: According to a study published in the journal ‘NeuroReport’, researchers from Keele University’s School of Psychology have determined that swearing can have a ‘pain-lessening effect’. While swearing is often a common response to pain, the researchers, Dr Richard Stephens and his colleagues, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston, had hypothesised that swearing would decrease the individual’s tolerance of pain but were surprised to discover a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance. The researchers believe that the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The accelerated heart rates of the person repeating the swear words may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic response of downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo. Because swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too, the centuries-old practice of cursing developed and persists even today.

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