Frankly, We Do Give a Damn: The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty

Frankly, We Do Give a Damn: The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty

By
Gilad Feldman, Huiwen Lian, Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell
Social Psychological and Personality Science (accepted). October
23, 2016

There are two conflicting perspectives regarding the relationship between profanity and dishonesty. These two forms of norm-violating behavior share common causes, and are often considered to be positively related. On the other hand, however, profanity is often used to express one’s genuine feelings, and could therefore be negatively related to dishonesty. In three studies, we explored the relationship between profanity and honesty. We examined profanity and honesty first with profanity behavior and lying on a scale in the lab (Study 1; N = 276), then with a linguistic analysis of real-life social interactions on Facebook (Study 2; N = 73,789), and finally with profanity and integrity indexes for the aggregate level of U.S. states (Study 3; N = 50 states). We found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level, and with higher integrity at the society level.