Profanity Reflects Honesty – A Matter of Debate!
Profanity Reflects Honesty – A Matter of Debate!
September 10, 2018

Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which, whilst giving an honest opinion about anything, the tonality of your expression modulated and that too for the worse?

Same goes for presenting your honest side in a written form.

Many recent studies indicate that if you use the swearing words in a conversation – written or spoken – then you are speaking nothing but the truth. Moreover, these studies have linked swearing to good health and well-being.

But, this is far from the truth!

These findings are questionable, not due to the final conclusions but rather due to the methods employed in reaching them.

In this blog, we’ll dig into the findings of three popular studies done by Feldman et. Al. and also why their outcome remains questionable till date.


Study 1: Internet Sampling with the Eysenck Lie scale

The participants were made to answer a set of questions about their use of profanity, and later on completed a measure of social desirability, known as the Eysenck Lie scale

The scale reveals the extent to which a person lies in order to create a socially acceptable image of himself.

The idea behind this study was that of analyzing false positives i.e. people wanted to show themselves in a good light and hence told lies to score well. Thus, higher scores were attribute to dishonesty.

The problem with this study is that it doesn’t take personality traits or habits of participants into account. The best example could be of adolescents who might be actually speaking the truth when put through the scale mentioned above (Pearson & Francis, 1989).

So, the reality contrasts the findings.


Study 2: The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC)

The LIWC is a novel piece of software and analyses participants’ status update on Facebook.

It is based on the psychological principle that the words a person chooses to communicate can indicate his current state of mind, including the truthfulness of his statements.

Although the results were somewhat interesting, the major drawback with this tech-savvy study was the variability of topics on which status updates were posted.

On social media, a joke is neither a truth nor a lie, but a joke! However, the software doesn’t take this into account. So, an element of randomness is introduced into the process. Hence, the results are questionable.


Study 3: Profanity and State-level Integrity

Now, this is a peculiar one. The criteria laid down to correlate profanity and accountability makes it so.

The study attempted to assess the state-level integrity of 50 US states. It included ratings of executive, legislative, and judicial accountability in each of these 50 states.

Profanity data was derived from participants’ scores in study 2.

The results indicated a positive relationship between profanity and state-level integrity, indicating that states with higher profanity scores also had more integrity.

Now, use a bit of common sense on this!

How can higher profanity be linked to honesty and accountability of the legislators? These people (legislators) have a totally different mindset than the general public.

Moreover, the study never distinguished the participants as per their professions. Again an element of randomness!

So, this study is beyond consideration.


What it Means?

Profanity has always been a debatable issue since the beginning, especially when we correlate it with signs of honesty.


No sufficient scientific evidence is available to support the claims of profanity being a key indicator of honesty.


More detailed studies considering the contextual and personality aspects could throw more light on this matter, and a conclusion might be reached.


So, till then use your own filters when dealing with profanity.



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