6 Reasons Why Swearing Is Good for You

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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.

Why Does Humidity Make Us Feel Hotter?

Tomwang112/iStock via Getty Images
Tomwang112/iStock via Getty Images

With temperatures spiking around the country, we thought it might be a good time to answer some questions about the heat index—and why humidity makes us feel hotter.

Why does humidity make us feel hotter?

To answer that question, we need to talk about getting sweaty.

As you probably remember from your high school biology class, one of the ways our bodies cool themselves is by sweating. The sweat then evaporates from our skin, and it carries heat away from the body as it leaves.

Humidity throws a wrench in that system of evaporative cooling, though. As relative humidity increases, the evaporation of sweat from our skin slows down. Instead, the sweat just drips off of us, which leaves us with all of the stinkiness and none of the cooling effect. Thus, when the humidity spikes, our bodies effectively lose a key tool that could normally be used to cool us down.

What's relative about relative humidity?

We all know that humidity refers to the amount of water contained in the air. However, as the air’s temperature changes, so does the amount of water the air can hold. (Air can hold more water vapor as the temperature heats up.) Relative humidity compares the actual humidity to the maximum amount of water vapor the air can hold at any given temperature.

Whose idea was the heat index?

While the notion of humidity making days feel warmer is painfully apparent to anyone who has ever been outside on a soupy day, our current system owes a big debt to Robert G. Steadman, an academic textile researcher. In a 1979 research paper called, “An Assessment of Sultriness, Parts I and II,” Steadman laid out the basic factors that would affect how hot a person felt under a given set of conditions, and meteorologists soon used his work to derive a simplified formula for calculating heat index.

The formula is long and cumbersome, but luckily it can be transformed into easy-to-read charts. Today your local meteorologist just needs to know the air temperature and the relative humidity, and the chart will tell him or her the rest.

Is the heat index calculation the same for everyone?

Not quite, but it’s close. Steadman’s original research was founded on the idea of a “typical” person who was outdoors under a very precise set of conditions. Specifically, Steadman’s everyman was 5’7” tall, weighed 147 pounds, wore long pants and a short-sleeved shirt, and was walking at just over three miles per hour into a slight breeze in the shade. Any deviations from these conditions will affect how the heat/humidity combo feels to a certain person.

What difference does being in the shade make?

Quite a big one. All of the National Weather Service’s charts for calculating the heat index make the reasonable assumption that folks will look for shade when it’s oppressively hot and muggy out. Direct sunlight can add up to 15 degrees to the calculated heat index.

How does wind affect how dangerous the heat is?

Normally, when we think of wind on a hot day, we think of a nice, cooling breeze. That’s the normal state of affairs, but when the weather is really, really hot—think high-90s hot—a dry wind actually heats us up. When it’s that hot out, wind actually draws sweat away from our bodies before it can evaporate to help cool us down. Thanks to this effect, what might have been a cool breeze acts more like a convection oven.

When should I start worrying about high heat index readings?

The National Weather Service has a handy four-tiered system to tell you how dire the heat situation is. At the most severe level, when the heat index is over 130, that's classified as "Extreme Danger" and the risk of heat stroke is highly likely with continued exposure. Things get less scary as you move down the ladder, but even on "Danger" days, when the heat index ranges from 105 to 130, you probably don’t want to be outside. According to the service, that’s when prolonged exposure and/or physical activity make sunstroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion likely, while heat stroke is possible.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article has been updated for 2019.

Chimpanzees Bond by Watching Movies Together, Too

Windzepher/iStock via Getty Images
Windzepher/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists at the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research Center in Germany recently discovered that, like humans, chimpanzees bond when they watch movies together, the BBC reports.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers stationed pairs of chimpanzees in front of screens that showed a video of a family of chimps playing with a young chimp. They found that afterward, the chimps would spend more time grooming and interacting with each other—or simply being in the same part of the room—than they would without having watched the video.

They gave the chimps fruit juice to keep them calm and occupied while they viewed the video, and they chose a subject that chimps have previously proven to be most interested in: other chimps. They also used eye trackers to ensure the chimps were actually watching the video. If you’ve ever watched a movie with friends, you might notice similarities between the chimps’ experience and your own. Drinks (and snacks) also keep us calm and occupied while we watch, and we like to watch movies about other humans. Since this study only showed that chimps bond over programs about their own species, we don’t know if it would work the same way if they watched something completely unrelated to them, like humans do—say, The Lion King.

Bonding through shared experiences was thought to be one of the traits that make us uniquely human, and some researchers have argued that other species don’t have the psychological mechanisms to realize that they’re even sharing an experience with another. This study suggests that social activities for apes don’t just serve utilitarian purposes like traveling together for safety, and that they’re capable of a more human-like social closeness.

The part that is uniquely human about this study is the fact that they were studying the effect of a screen, as opposed to something less man-made. The chimps in question have participated in other studies, so they may be more accustomed to that technology than wild apes. But the study demonstrates that we’re not the only species capable of social interaction for the sake of social interaction.

[h/t BBC]

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