6 Reasons Why Swearing Is Good for You

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iStock

Swearing is bad. Any linguistically adventurous child, caught by an adult, will tell you that. Salty language is often considered impolite, offensive, and suggestive of a limited lexicon. But linguists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists say otherwise. For one thing, researchers have found that if you're fluent at cursing, you are likely to have a strong vocabulary as well. Even better, there are a range of circumstances in which dropping a well-timed F-bomb might actually be good for you. So read on and curse if you must. Why the hell not?

1. SWEARING IS CATHARTIC …

If you've ever uttered a few choice words in moments of anger, frustration, pain or sadness, then you've likely experienced the cathartic effect of swearing. Swearing gives us a way to express our emotions and to vent, according to psychologist Timothy Jay, one of the world's leading curse researchers. "It also communicates very effectively, almost immediately, our feelings," Jay told TIME. "And other words don’t do that."

2. … AND INCREASES YOUR TOLERANCE OF PAIN.

In a set of well-known experiments, psychologist Richard Stephens and colleagues examined the relationship between swearing and pain. In the first study, participants dunked their hands in ice-cold water. While doing so, they were asked to repeat either a swear word or neutral word (one they would use to describe a table). Participants who swore were able to keep their hands in the water for longer and perceived less pain.

But the pain-related benefits of swearing are not as great if you're a habitual potty-mouth, according to a 2011 follow-up study published in The Journal of Pain. To really reap the benefits of swearing, you need to aim for the sweet spot: not too much, not too little.

3. SWEARING PUTS YOU IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER ANIMAL—AND YET MAKES YOU HUMAN.

Like other mammals, we may yelp in pain when we're hurt or frustrated, a result of our "mammalian rage circuit" being triggered, according to Steven Pinker's book The Stuff of Thought. Pinker suggests that the instinct to swear is a result of the “cross-wiring of the mammalian rage circuit"—in which signals travel from the amygdala to the hypothalamus and on to the gray matter in the midbrain—"with human concepts and vocal routines."

Swearing in response to strong emotions may be hard-wired in the brain, but the fact that we add a curse or two makes us pretty different from our fellow animals. In her book Swearing Is Good For You, scientist Emma Byrne argues that swearing is a quintessential act of human behavior. "Far from being a simple cry," she writes, "swearing is a complex social signal that is laden with emotional and cultural significance."

4. SWEARING MAKES YOU SEEM MORE HONEST TO OTHERS.

Researchers examined the relationship between swearing and truth-telling in a multi-part study published in 2017. They interviewed participants, asking them for their favorite swear words, how often they swore, and why. They then evaluated the participants' trustworthiness and found that those who swore tended to lie less. The data also suggested that "people regard profanity more as a tool for the expression of their genuine emotions, rather than being antisocial and harmful."

The researchers also examined the status messages of nearly 74,000 active Facebook users. Their analysis indicated that "those who used more profanity were more honest in their Facebook status updates."

5. IT HELPS YOU BOND WITH YOUR CO-WORKERS.

Workplace banter peppered with joking insults and swearing can help create a positive work environment. As Byrne notes, such banter is "good for group bonding, and inclusivity makes for a productive workforce."

The much-maligned F-word emerged as the star of one 2004 study published in the Journal of Pragmatics [PDF]. Researchers recorded 35 hours of conversation among a team of soap factory workers in New Zealand. This was a close-knit and highly motivated group. An analysis of their conversations suggested that forms of the F-word were used to express friendliness and solidarity, as well as a means to fix or ease situations involving complaints or refused requests. The team coordinator described all the swearing and joking around as "a 'we know each [other] well' thing … no one really took offense.''

6. SWEARING MAKES PEOPLE LIKE YOU—ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE IN POLITICS.

Politicians who let loose and swear may have hit upon a way to connect with their voters. One theory is that politicians earn "covert prestige" with their use of foul language. Covert prestige refers to language appreciated by a group of people—say, a politician's voter base—that might not be acceptable to most others. (This is the opposite of overt prestige, in which people use standard, widely acceptable language.) Michael Adams, an English professor at Indiana University Bloomington, told PBS NewsHour that politicians often seek covert prestige by using "local political dialect" to appeal to certain voters.

Swearing also makes politicians seem more relatable, according to a 2014 study of 110 Italian participants. It found that the use of swear words in a blog post "improved the general impression" of fictional male and female candidates. The study, which was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, also found that swearing made the language seem more informal. But there was a downside: It diminished the "perceived persuasiveness" of the fictional candidate's message.

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

Could Leonardo da Vinci's Artistic Genius Be Due to an Eye Condition?

Young John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci (1513-16, Louvre, Paris).
Young John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci (1513-16, Louvre, Paris).
Christopher Tyler, JAMA Ophthalmology (2018)

Leonardo da Vinci was indisputably a genius, but his singular artistic vision may have been the result of seeing the world differently in more ways than one. A new paper argues that he had strabismus, a vision disorder where the eyes are misaligned and don’t look toward the same place at the same time. This disorder, visual neuroscientist Christopher Tyler argues, may have helped the artist render three-dimensional images on flat canvas with an extra level of skill.

Tyler is a professor at City, University of London who has written a number of studies on optics and art. In this study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, he examined six different artworks from the period when Leonardo was working, including Young John the Baptist, Vitruvian Man, and a self-portrait by the artist. He also analyzed pieces by other artists that are thought to have used Leonardo as a model, like Andrea del Verrocchio’s Young Warrior sculpture. Leonardo served as the lead assistant in the latter artist’s studio, and likely served as the model for several of his works. Leonardo was also a friend of Benedetto da Maiano, and possibly served as a model for his 1480 sculpture of John the Baptist. Tyler also looked at the recently auctioned Salvator Mundi, a painting that not all experts believe can be attributed to Leonardo. (However, at least one scientific team that examined the painting says it’s legit.)

With strabismus, a person’s eyes appear to point in different directions. Based on the eyes in Leonardo’s own portraits of himself and other artworks modeled after him, it seems likely that he had intermittent strabismus. When he relaxed his eyes, one of his eyes drifted outward, though he was likely able to align his eyes when he focused. The gaze in the portraits and sculptures seems to be misaligned, with the left eye consistently drifting outward at around the same angle.

'Vitruvian Man' with the subject's pupils highlighted
Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci (~1490, Accademia, Venice)
Christopher Tyler, JAMA Ophthalmology (2018)

“The weight of converging evidence suggests that [Leonardo] had intermittent exotropia—where an eye turns outwards—with a resulting ability to switch to monocular vision, using just one eye,” Tyler explained in a press release. “The condition is rather convenient for a painter, since viewing the world with one eye allows direct comparison with the flat image being drawn or painted.” This would have given him an assist in depicting depth accurately.

Leonardo isn’t the first famous artist whose vision researchers have wondered about. Some have speculated that Degas’s increasingly coarse pastel work in his later years may have been attributed to his degenerating eyes, as the rough edges would have appeared smoother to him because of his blurred vision. Others have suggested that Van Gogh’s “yellow period” and the vibrant colors of Starry Night may have been influenced by yellowing vision caused by his use of digitalis, a medicine he took for epilepsy.

We can never truly know whether a long-dead artist’s work was the result of visual issues or simply a unique artistic vision, but looking at their art through the lens of medicine provides a new way of understanding their process.

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