Researchers from Southern Connecticut State University have found that using bad language leaves a negative impression on others, even those who are not offended by profanity. According to the analysis, people who swear are perceived as being unintelligent, untrustworthy, and less likeable.
The study was focused on 138 students, including 101 women. The students were questioned about their own swearing habits before participating in a series of experiments that were developed to analyze how they felt about people who use foul language.
The study participants read a hypothetical conversation between two 15-year-olds. They were asked to judge the two individuals on various qualities.
“Speakers using profanity had poorer impression ratings on several variables, including overall impression, intelligence, and trustworthiness,” explained lead author Melanie DeFrank.
The researchers used the assessments to determine which swear words were the most offensive to the study participants. “Dang” was found to be the least offensive expletive, while the b-word and the f-word were considered to be the most derogatory.
The experts also found that people are consistently repulsed by the same curse words. On the other hand, an interesting discrepancy was noted in the amount of swearing across the general population – almost the same percentage of people rarely ever swear compared to those who swear profusely.
Around 17 percent of people curse less than five times per day, but around 20 percent of people admit to swearing at least 21 times every day. Regarding how much bad language people are exposed to on a daily basis, nearly the same ratio was established.
People who used profanity in the experiment were perceived as being less honest and less intelligent, and this effect was even stronger when the researchers manipulated the gender roles in the hypothetical conversation.
“Speakers swearing in mixed-gender dyads were rated as less sociable, and males swearing in mixed-gender dyads were rated as more offensive,” explained the researchers.
Even when the study participants had not rated specific words as being offensive, they still judged the speakers harshly when they used those expletives.
“Despite people not considering the language offensive, they are still affected by it and use it to judge others, suggesting a subliminal effect,” wrote the study authors.
They said that this finding indicates that “people have become more desensitized to certain swears and even expect them at times.”
The study is published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology.