A joint study by the University of Cambridge, Stanford University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Maastricht University suggests there is an inexpltricable link between profanity and honesty.
A recent study titled Frankly, We Do Give a Damn: The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty suggests that people who swear often are more likely to be honest.
The study, aptly titled Frankly, We Do Give a Damn: The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty, was a three-pronged exploration of swearing as a form of expression, both online and in real life.
What they found was a “consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level.”
The study suggests that while swearing and lying are usually considered to share common causes, profanity is often used to express geniune feelings “and could therefore be negatively related to dishonesty. “
Think: When was the last time you swore? What is used to drive a point you really, really meant? Something like “man, it’s really fucking hot today” – we bet it was.
The study was broken down into three separate parts.
First, 276 subjects who were self-professed swearers were tested on their swearing habits. The were asked to write down profanities they liked and commonly used and how often they used them. “By giving participants an opportunity to curse freely, we expected that the daily usage and enjoyment of profanity would be reflected in the total number of curse words written,” the study says.
Then they were asked to explain how they liked to use swear words in different scenarios, and which words they felt they couldn’t use in public but liked to use in private.
This data was then measured for ‘honesty’ by asking the participants to answer questions about ethical or personal scenarios – such as “Are all your habits good and desirable ones?” – whereby if they answered ‘no’ it was considered truthful (as they were unrealistic questions to answer ‘yes’ to).
What they found from this data was that “Honesty was positively correlated with all profanity measures” – i.e. those that swore more also answered truthfully on the honesty test.
The second test was a study of how people used swear words on Facebook. A total of 153,716 participants were recruited using the myPersonality Facebook app, with 73,789 users submitting usable results. The data was then analysed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count algorithm. What was found is that who swore less had a higher percentage of statuses deemed as dishonest.
“The explanation was that dishonest people subconsciously try to (1) dissociate themselves from the lie and therefore refrain from referring to themselves; (2) prefer concrete over abstract language when referring to others (using someone’s name instead of “he” or “she”); (3) are likely to feel discomfort by lying and therefore express more negative feelings; and (4) require more mental resources to obscure the lie and therefore end up using less cognitively demanding language, which is characterised by a lower frequency of exclusive words and a higher frequency of motion verbs,” the report reads.
Basically this is saying that people who are subconsciously dishonest tend to refrain from using words like “I”, “Me”, “I’m” or “We”, tend to express more negative feelings and tend to exclude themselves within the language they use.
In their analysis of the myPersonality Facebook data, the researchers found again that “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 third part of the study was a wider look at profanity and integrity rates across the US (how they quantified this is a little unclear) and found that states with a higher level of profanity usage ranked higher on the integrity scale.
In all three tests, the study suggests that swearing frequently was indicative of being more honest. Of course, there are a million other factors at play, as the study conclusion notes: “Unlike behavioural ethics, the study of profanity is still very much in its infancy.”
You have to remember though that being honest doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good person. Come to think of it, honesty is in many ways closer linked with being a complete ballbag, so get off your high horses swearers.
Nonetheless, the finding are pretty fucking interesting. Check out the study here.
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