Science reveals swearing may be a sign of intelligence, creativity and helps us endure more pain 


Being told ‘you curse like a sailor’ is usually not a compliment, but scientists who have studied swearing for decades say using foul language is actually beneficial.

Numerous studies have found using taboo words may be a sign of intelligence, honesty and creativity, as well as a way to withstand pain.

Although swearing has been deemed language of poverty, researchers found well-educated people are better at coming up with curse words than those with a smaller vocabulary.

There have also been links found between profanity, honesty and creativity, as people choose such powerful words to express their emotions and when doing so an area of the right brain is activated, which is known as the ‘creative brain.’

Timothy Jay, professor emeritus of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who has studied swearing for more than 40 years, told CNN: ‘The advantages of swearing are many.’

‘The benefits of swearing have just emerged in the last two decades, as a result of a lot of research on brain and emotion, along with much better technology to study brain anatomy.’

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Being told ‘you curse like a sailor’ is usually not a compliment, but scientists who have studied swearing for decades say using foul language is actually beneficial. Numerous studies have found using taboo words may be a sign of intelligence, honesty and creativity, as well as a way to withstand pain

Jay has conducted a number of studies into the art of swearing and believes there is an evolutionary advantage to using such lingo, ‘or we would not have evolved to do it,’ he told The New York Times.

There has been a myth that such language is the ‘poverty of vocabulary,’ but in a 2015 study, Jay put this idea to rest.

The work tested participant’s ability to generate words based on a given letter.

The results showed that those who formulated the most words, along with animal names, also used the most swear words.

Although swearing has been deemed language of poverty, researchers found well-educated people are better at coming up with curse words than those with a smaller vocabulary

Although swearing has been deemed language of poverty, researchers found well-educated people are better at coming up with curse words than those with a smaller vocabulary 

Jay and his team also found taboo words positively correlated with the Big Five personality traits neuroticism and openness and negatively correlated with agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Neuroticism and openness have also been found to correlate with honesty, which suggests those who curse may also be the most honest.

A study from 2017 conducted by an international team found profanity is typically used to express the person’s genuine feelings.

The team determined those who swear are honest at an individual level and with integrity at a society level.

Jay told The New York Times that people see those who swear as being more honesty because truth tellers get right to the point and do not think about what they are going to say.

Whereas liars use more brain power to formulate their stories and are very meticulous about word usage.

There have also been links found between profanity, honesty and creativity, as people choose such powerful words to express their emotions and when doing so an area of the right brain is activated, which is known as the 'creative brain

There have also been links found between profanity, honesty and creativity, as people choose such powerful words to express their emotions and when doing so an area of the right brain is activated, which is known as the ‘creative brain

Although these studies look at abilities and actions of participants, other work has pinpointed where swearing appears in the brain and it does so on the right side known as the ‘creative brain.’

Emma Byrne, the author of ‘Swearing Is Good for You,’ told CNN that there are a number of cases where a patients who have a stroke on the right side of their brain will stop swearing, even if they have used such language their entire lives.

And swearing seems to give us superpowers by allowing us to endure more pain.

Researchers from Keele University’s School of Psychology determine swearing can have a ‘pain-lessening effect.’

The team believes swearing triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

Volunteers submerged their hands in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating their taboo word of choice.

Researchers found that the volunteers were able to keep their hands submerged in the ice water for a longer period of time when repeating the swear word, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

Although there are numerous studies that find benefits of using foul language, there are those that contraindicate such findings.

Two researchers from Southern Connecticut State University determined swearing can make you seem dishonest and less intelligent than your peers.

Even those who are not offended by foul language hold lower opinions of swearers than non-swearers, researchers found.

As well as lacking intelligence and trustworthiness, foul mouthed individuals are also judged as less likeable and more aggressive.

These findings may suggest that swearing is similar to the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’

IS SWEARING A SIGN OF INTELLIGENCE?

Research in 2014 revealed people who frequently swear are more likely to have a bigger vocabulary than their clean-tongued peers.

A colourful tongue does not mean the talker is lazy or uneducated, the study published in the Language Sciences journal found.

Instead, those who are more confident using taboo words are more articulate in other areas.

Kristin and Timothy Jay, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts psychologists who co-wrote the study, said it proved swearing was positively correlated with verbal fluency.

‘We cannot help but judge others on the basis of their speech,’ they wrote.

‘Unfortunately, when it comes to taboo language, it is a common assumption that people who swear frequently are lazy, do not have an adequate vocabulary, lack education, or simply cannot control themselves.’

In their conclusion, they added: ‘The overall finding of this set of studies, that taboo fluency is positively correlated with other measures of verbal fluency, undermines the [normal] view of swearing.’

A separate and unrelated study from the University of Rochester in 29017 found that intelligent people tend to swear more. 

Despite this, studies have also found that the perception of people who swear often is that they are actually less intelligent and trustworthy, creating somewhat of a paradox.  



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