We all have that friend who’s raised profanity to an art form. Keep them close if you cherish honest opinions and relationships. That’s according to a new study which found people who easily churn obscenities are likely more honest.
The international team of researchers performed two studies meant to establish if there’s any link between swearing and honesty. For the purpose of this study, profanity can include sexual references, vulgarity or offensive slang.
In the first part, 276 volunteers were interviewed about their swearing habits but also how honest they were in certain situations. For the second part, the researchers mined the status updates of 75,000 Facebook users looking for both profanities and indicators of deception. Previous studies established that, generally, liars use third-person pronouns and negative words. It’s worth mentioning that for the Facebook study, the kind of dishonesty analyzed was ‘self-promoting’ deception aimed at making someone look better.
The findings 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,” the researchers wrote in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Interestingly, the more obscene words the person used, the likelier he or she was to be truthful. Though swearing is often used out of anger or malice, habitual use of profanities can be quite candid, the study suggests.
The following table shows a correlation between profanity rate and integrity by state.
“You might think if someone is swearing a lot, this is a negative social behavior,” said study co-author David Stillwell from the University of Cambridge. “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.”
Previously, scientists found a correlation between swearing a lot and higher verbal intelligence. Another study found bad language can actually provide pain relief.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.