Swearing is considered inappropriate in many contexts, but why?

It alienates others, you might think. Nope, says research. Swearing often serves to bond us together. Maybe swearing makes you look dumb? But no, science shows swearing is correlated with higher intelligence. Perhaps the ban on swearing is to protect the innocent minds of kids? Actually, experts are far from convinced that hearing the occasional dirty word does children any harm.

The rationale must be that swearing reflects poorly on your character then. Is that one at least backed by science? Unfortunately for the anti-swearing camp, that reason to look down on the potty mouthed just got knocked down by research too. A new study has found that those who swear a blue streak actually tend to be more honest and trustworthy than those who avoid profanity.

Sorry mom, but cursing and good character go together.

The three-part study, which is set to be published in the journal Psychological and Personality Science later this year, used a trio of clever methods to investigate the link between between profanity and honesty.

First, the research team asked 276 volunteers to self-report how often they swore and share details of how honest they were in various situations. Next, the researchers analyzed status updates from 73,000 Facebook users, looking for possible links between profanity and previously established signs of dishonesty on the site.

Lastly, the team examined the connection between character and swearing on a larger, cultural level by comparing the 2012 Integrity Analyses of 48 U.S. states from the Center for Public Integrity, which measured the level of transparency and accountability of local governments, to how frequently residents of that state swore in their Facebook posts.

Whichever method the researchers used they got the same answer -- the more you swear, the more likely you are to be honest and trustworthy.

Filthy mouths have fewer filters.

Why would talking like a sailor have anything to do with the integrity of what you're saying?

"If someone is swearing a lot... 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," explained the University of Cambridge's David Stillwell, who is a co-author of the study. "People who use the language that comes to mind first are less likely to be playing games with the truth."

There are lessons here for both the perpetually potty mouthed and those who hastily condemn them. If you're inclined to swear and feel guilty about it, this research suggests your propensity for colorful language probably says good things about your character. That doesn't mean your boss or your kid's teacher will be in agreement with these results, however, so put your newfound pride to use selectively.

For those who have always been taught that swearing is a moral issue indicating some sort of personal fault, this study (and others like it attesting to the fact that swearing doesn't seem linked with anything too problematic) should be a nudge to reconsider. While no one is saying every person with an expansive vocabulary of curse words is an angel, this research does show that there's no reason to be more suspicious of the foul-mouthed. In fact, if you've got nothing else to go on, you should probably trust them more.

Published on: Jan 17, 2017
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