We all have at least one friend. You know, the one who you could never put on speaker phone in a public place, because they are constantly spewing profanities.
Sure, swearing is considered poor form in certain settings—like courts, classrooms, and maybe in front of grandma. But you would probably be the first to admit that you sharp-tongued companion is the most genuine and straightforward person you know.
A three-part study was completed by a collaborative team from the Maastricht University, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Stanford and the University of Cambridge. They found out, potty-mouthed people have lower deception levels and higher honesty at a personal and societal level!
“The consistent findings across the studies suggest that the positive relation between profanity and honesty is robust and that the relationship found at the individual level indeed translates to the society level,” concludes the final paper, set to be published in the Journal of Psychological and Personality Science this year.
Gilad Feldman of the Department of Work and Psychology in Maastricht University in the Netherlands led an international research team whose goal was to resolve a conflict in social science, which is split on the matter of swearing and straightforwardness. On the one hand, using profanity is taboo and people who do so may be more inclined to break other social norms; so swearing has been associated with moral turpitude, the paper explains.
On the other hand, blurting curses is positively associated with authenticity in certain situations.
The researchers first studied individual profanity by asking 276 individuals to report how commonly they curse, list their favorite swear words, and explain what emotions they associate with swearing (like anger, embarrassment, or anxiety). Then, these individuals were asked about their honesty in a rather roundabout way; they were surveyed about their reliability, among other things, using a version of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, a standard psychological model developed in 1985.
Next, they analyzed about 70,000 social media interactions between international participants, assessing the presence of profanity in status updates against other measurements of honesty online, such as frequency of use of words like “I ” or “me” which have been associated in previous studies with lack of forthrightness. “Profanity and honesty were found to be significantly and positively correlated, indicating that those who used more profanity were more honest in their Facebook status updates,”.
Finally, the team analyzed profanity on a societal level. To do this, they looked at the 2012 Integrity Analyses of 48 US states (a measure of transparency and accountability in state governments conducted by the Center for Public Integrity). They took the state data and compared it to individual swearing scores of state residents in their Facebook study (29,701 participants), finding a correlation between frequent cursing in residents and the state’s integrity score. For example, in Connecticut and New Jersey, individuals swore frequently but their states also scored highest on the integrity analysis. Meanwhile, in South Carolina individuals politely avoided profanity, but the state also scored low on governmental integrity and openness.
“We set out to provide an empirical answer to competing views regarding the relationship between profanity and honesty. In three studies, at both the individual and society level, we found that a higher rate of profanity use was associated with more honesty.”
Many other studies have shown that swearing keeps people de-stressed and it is an effective pain relief method. The people, who were the subject of the research, are with a rather colorful vocabulary but they do not swear at people, they just tend to use swear words in their spoken or written language more than others.
So, go ahead – add a little more excitement to your vocabulary.