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.

Sssspectacular: Tree Snakes in Australia Can Actually Jump

sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images
sirichai_raksue/iStock via Getty Images

Ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes, is common among humans. We avoid snakes in the wild, have nightmares about snakes at night, and recoil at snakes on television. We might even be born with the aversion. When researchers showed babies photos of snakes and spiders, their tiny pupils dilated, indicating an arousal response to these ancestral threats.

If you really want to scare a baby, show them footage of an Australian tree snake. Thanks to researchers at Virginia Tech, we now know these non-venomous snakes of the genus Dendrelaphis can become airborne, propelling themselves around treetops like sentient Silly String.

That’s Dendrelaphis pictus, which was caught zipping through the air in 2010. After looking at footage previously filmed by her advisor Jake Socha, Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate Michelle Graham headed for Australia and built a kind of American Ninja Warrior course for snakes out of PVC piping and tree branches. Graham observed that the snakes tend to spot their landing target, then spring upward. The momentum gets them across gaps that would otherwise not be practical to cross.

Graham next plans to investigate why snakes feel compelled to jump. They might feel a need to escape, or continue moving, or do it because they can. Two scientific papers due in 2020 could provide answers.

Dendrelaphis isn’t the only kind of snake with propulsive capabilities. The Chrysopelea genus includes five species found in Southeast Asia and China, among other places, that can glide through the air.

[h/t National Geographic]

9 Facts About Narcolepsy

Korrawin/iStock via Getty Images
Korrawin/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone experiences occasional daytime sleepiness, but just a small fraction of the population knows what it’s like to have narcolepsy. The disorder is defined by persistent drowsiness throughout the day, and in some cases, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and the sudden loss of muscle control known as cataplexy. Having narcolepsy can make doing everyday activities difficult or dangerous for patients, but unlike some chronic conditions, it’s also easy to diagnose and treat. Here are some facts you should know about the condition.

1. There are two types of narcolepsy.

If everything you know about narcolepsy comes from movies and TV, you may think of it as the disease that causes people to go limp without warning. Sudden loss of muscle control is called cataplexy, and it’s the defining symptom of type 1 narcolepsy. Type 2 narcolepsy, on the other hand, is mainly characterized by fatigue. Losing motor function while awake isn’t a problem for those with type 2.

2. Type 1 narcolepsy stems from a chemical deficiency.

Almost every patient with type 1 narcolepsy has low levels of hypocretin. Hypocretin is a neurochemical that regulates the wake-sleep cycle. When there isn’t enough of this chemical in the brain, people have trouble staying conscious and alert throughout the day. Most people with the second, less severe type of narcolepsy have normal hypocretin levels, with about a third of them producing low or undetectable amounts. Type 2 narcoplepsy has been studied far less than type 1 of the disorder, and scientists are still figuring out what causes it.

3. The exact causes of narcolepsy aren’t always clear.

So why do some people’s brains produce less hypocretin than others? That part has been hard for scientists to figure out. One possible explanation is that certain autoimmune disorders cause the body to attack the healthy brain cells that make this chemical. This disorder can be the result of genetic and environmental factors. Although people with narcolepsy rarely pass it down to their offspring (this happens less than 1 percent of the time), the sleep condition does occasionally crop up in family clusters, suggesting there is sometimes a genetic component at play. Head trauma that impacts the area of the brain responsible for governing sleep can also lead to narcolepsy in rare cases.

4. There are tests to diagnose narcolepsy.

If patients believe they might have narcolepsy, their doctors might ask them to detail their sleep history and keep a record of their sleep habits. There are also a few tests potential narcoleptics can take to determine if they have the condition. During a polysomnography test, patients spend the night at a medical facility with electrodes attached to their heads to monitor their breathing, eye movement, and brain activity. A multiple sleep latency test is similar, except it gauges how long it takes patients to fall asleep during the day.

5. Strong emotions can trigger cataplexy.

Cataplectic spells can sometimes be predicted by triggers. In some patients, feeling strong emotions—whether they’re crying, laughing, angry, or stressed—is all it takes for them to lose muscle control. These triggers vary from patient to patient, and they can even affect the same person randomly. Some people deal with them by avoiding certain situations and closing themselves off emotionally, which can disrupt their social lives.

6. Narcolepsy can make sleep terrifying.

Narcoleptics don’t just worry about their disorder during their waking hours. When they’re trying to fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, narcolepsy can complicate things. One symptom is experiencing vivid, dream-like hallucinations while transitioning in or out of consciousness. These visions are often scary and may involve an intruder in the room with the sleeper. If they happen as the patient falls asleep, the hallucinations are called hypnagogic, and if they occur as they wake up, they’re hypnopompic.

A related symptom is sleep paralysis. This happens when a person’s brain cuts off muscle control of their body before they’re fully asleep or as they’re waking up. This combined with hypnagogic or hypnopompic nightmares can cause frightening experiences that are sometimes confused for real encounters.

7. Narcoleptics sometimes do activities half-asleep.

To outside observers, narcolepsy is sometimes hard to spot. A narcoleptic patient overcome by sleepiness won’t necessarily pass out in the middle of what they’re doing. Some act out “automatic behavior,” which means they continue with their actions—whether that’s walking, driving, or typing—with limited consciousness. This can cause poor performance at work or school, and in worst case scenarios, accidents while driving a car or operating machinery.

8. Harriet Tubman may have had narcolepsy.

One of the most famous likely narcoleptics in history is Harriet Tubman. The African American abolitionist was known to suffer from what were probably sudden narcoleptic episodes. The condition may have stemmed from the severe head trauma she sustained when a slave master threw an iron at another slave and hit her instead. The injury left her with permanent brain damage: In addition to narcolepsy, she also experienced chronic seizures and migraines throughout her life.

9. Medications and lifestyle changes are common narcolepsy treatments.

Though there’s no way to cure narcolepsy completely, there are many treatment options available. Taking medication is one of the most common ways to manage the disorder. Stimulants such as modafinil and armodafinil can be used to combat mild sleepiness, while amphetamines are often prescribed for more severe forms of fatigue. For hallucinations and sleep paralysis, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors—drugs that suppress REM sleep—can help.

As an alternative or supplementary treatment to medications, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes. Sticking to a sleep schedule, exercising regularly, avoiding nicotine and alcohol, and taking naps during the day can all reduce the symptoms of narcolepsy.

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