What the Hell! Research Proves That Having a Dirty Mouth Has Its benefits
Your potty mouth relieves pain and is a sign of intelligence and honesty
When my father sat down at his desk in the cellar to do his taxes, the air was no longer filled with the sounds of Mozart or Beethoven.
It sounded something like this: !@#$%&*
And for this reason, I love to swear. At the age where we’re developing language skills, the sounds of expletives penetrated my impressionable brain and mouth, and they’ve been there ever since.
But dad was on to something.
Research shows that swearing out loud reduces pain, relieves stress, and may be a sign of intelligence and honesty.
In the medical journal Neuroreport, 20(12): 1050–60, September 2009, Swearing as a response to pain, Richard Stephens, et al. investigated whether swearing affects tolerance to cold, pain and if it increases heart rate.
Dr. Stephens, Senior Lecturer of Psychology at the Keele University in the United Kingdom and the Chair of the Psychobiology of the British Psychology Society, got a three for three on those items.
Stephens and fellow researchers found that when we deliver one of those jaw-dropping expletives when we bang an elbow, stub a toe or burn ourselves, our heart rate increases, and our adrenaline level rises. In other words, expressing our pain this way triggers the flight or fight response.
This produces a psychological response that “….nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.” And it, therefore, reduces the sensation of pain.
Experiments also revealed an increased tolerance to cold when subjects swore out loud. Go figure. I’ll see if it helps the next time I’m freezing on a subway platform.
Swearing out loud increases us a sense of control, increases strength and circulation, and elevates endorphins. It’s not that the words themselves have any power. It’s the act of saying, or yelling, the forbidden word that gives it its power, or as research proves, makes it cathartic. In other words, it relieves stress and provides an emotional release.
So take that.
The belief that people who swear only do so because they lack language fluency has also been disproven.
Kristin and Timothy Jay, PhDs in psychologists, report that cursing can help us express our emotions and that the so-called ‘poverty of vocabulary’ hypothesis is incorrect.
In a 2015 study on word fluency, Taboo word fluency and knowledge of slurs and general pejoratives: deconstructing the poverty-of-vocabulary myth by Kristin and Timothy Jay found that people who could generate a lot of letter words and animal names could also come up with more swear words. Increased use of these words means increased use of words. Period. Their conclusion:
“Fluency is fluency.” The ability to come up with a list of swear words proves that you know more words overall.
Yes, there is also research to prove that those of us who tend to use profanity are more honest than those who do not.
Results of a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science, conducted by Gilad Feldman and fellow researchers found a link between swearing and less lying and deception.
They concluded that swearing is spontaneous and the expression of an emotional response. It is authentic and unplanned. Dishonesty, on the other hand, is a conscious attempt to convey a falsehood and requires more thought.
This conclusion flies in the face of the negatives associated with swearing.
Don’t believe me? Researchers came to this conclusion using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire short scale. It is a Lie scale that includes questions such as, “If you say you will do something, do you always keep your promise no matter how inconvenient it might be?”
Positive answers are considered unrealistic and, therefore, a lie. For the study, the honesty measure was reversed.
My father was the most honest person I knew. He was also a historian, mathematician, so he didn’t lack for brains either. If I were to apply the results of the above-referenced studies to him, I’d say they were dead-on accurate.
Swearing has its benefits. However, there is no positive outcome for the use of racial slurs, obscenities, or abusive name-calling. Some social situations also require that we mind our tongues. It’s called common courtesy.
Colorful metaphors, as I’ve heard them called, are useful for relieving pain, gaining camaraderie, and expressing the intensity of a situation. But if you use them commonly in your everyday speech, they lose their effect.
And a swear is a terrible thing to waste.
So swear well, but not too much. Or you might find that your audience has left the room.
Want to receive my newsletter? Sign-up at: https://marilyn.substack.com/