People who swear more frequently are also more honest, new psychological research finds.
The reason may be that people swear when they are speaking honestly and not filtering their thoughts and emotions (for a change).
Dr David Stillwell, one of the study’s authors, said:
“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.”
For the first part of the research 276 people listed their most commonly used words — including their favourite swear words.
In the second part data was collected from 75,000 people on Facebook to see how much they swore.
In both cases the researchers found evidence that swearing was linked to higher honesty.
For example, people who swore more were less likely to lie online to make themselves look better.
Dr Stillwell continued:
“There are two ways of looking at it.
You might think if someone is swearing a lot, this is a negative social behaviour seen as a bad thing to do, so if someone swears they are probably a bad person as well.
On the other hand, they are not filtering their language so they are probably also not putting their stories about what is going on through similar filters which might turn them into untruths.
That is what we seemed to land on in this study, that people who use the language that comes to mind first are less likely to be playing games with the truth.”
The study’s authors mention Donald Trump who often uses the word “hell” and promised to “knock the s*** out of Isis”:
“Profanity has even been used by presidential candidates in American elections as recently illustrated by Donald Trump, who has been both hailed for authenticity and criticised for moral bankruptcy.”
Perceived honest may be one of the reasons that swearing can be persuasive.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (Feldman et al., 2017).