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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.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Health
Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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