Study finds links between profanity and honesty

A recent study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science has concluded that people who swear frequently tend to be more honest.

A team of researchers from Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States reported that people who use profanity are less likely to be connected with deception and lying.

In communication, profanity is usually associated with a strong expression of emotions, such as frustration, joy or sadness. Profanity can deem an individual as untrustworthy to some, but researchers have shown that in fact, it is actually the opposite.

The international team of researchers set out to gauge the views of individuals on profanity in a series of questionnaires, as well as through interactions with social media users.

In the first questionnaire, 276 individuals were asked to list both their most frequently used and favorite profanities. They were then instructed to rate their reasons for using those words on a list, then participate in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or just answering the questions in the way they believed was socially acceptable. Through this questionnaire, researchers discovered that those who wrote down a higher number of profane words were less likely to be lying.

A second survey obtained data from 75,000 Facebook users across the United States, gauging their use of profanity in their online communications. Those who used more profanity were found to be more likely to use language patterns that correlate to honesty.

The data from both experiments showed that honesty had been positively correlated with all profanity indexes. In other words, participants lied less on the “lie scale” if they wrote down a higher number of frequently used profanities.

Participants also indicated that in their personal experience, profanity was used more for being honest about their feelings and dealing with their negative emotions.

This supports the view that people view profanity more as a method for expressing their genuine emotions rather than being antisocial and harmful. These findings are crucial because they can aid further research on profanity.

“This research makes several important contributions by taking a first step to examine profanity and honesty enacted in naturalistic settings, using large samples and extending findings from the individual level to a look at the implications for society,” reported the study’s conclusion.