Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Damn! obscenity helps.

Clearly our exposure to swearing has increased with the use of satellite radio, cable television, and the Internet and arguably society has become more and more tolerant towards profanity.  Does this mean that there may be positive aspects to using profanity?

So why exactly do we abuse? A study (Fine & Johnson, 1984) showed that we are more likely to abuse to express anger and emphasize feelings to something that is quite important to the person. These results suggest that when a speaker swears the audience could infer that speaker is emphasizing feelings. 

Definitely though it might affect the credibility of the speaker? I mean who wants their children to listen to potential leaders abuse. I mean just imagine the future prime minister saying “Their policies are full of shit ”

A study conducted by Scherer & Sagarin (2006) made an attempt to study the positive effects of obscenity on persuasion. They tried to see how persuasive the message was when obscenity was used and the intensity and credibility of the speaker when he abused.
This was a between participants (88 psychology students) design and there were three conditions ( no swearing, swearing at the beginning of the message and swearing at the end of the message). Participants from each condition were put into one of these conditions and shown a 5-min video which had little relevance to them (decreasing the tuition fees in another institution ). After watching the video they completed scales that measured their attitudes on the topic and their perceptions of the speaker.
What exactly did they find?

Several ANOVAs revealed astonishing results. Swearing had a significant effect on participants attitudes towards the video, F (2, 85) = 3.751, p = .027. The videos which had the swear word (both at the beginning and ending) were more persuasive than the video that had no swear words. Also swearing had a significant effect on participants perceptions of the intensity of the speaker, F(2, 85) = 3.473, p = .035. Swearing led to a higher perception of speaker intensity. The funny part is that swearing had no significant difference on the credibility of the speaker F(2, 85) = 0.052, p = .945.3. Wow! We can actually get away with it.
Aren’t these results just too good to be true, it is important to note that obscenity in this study was not obnoxious it was in fact “judicious”. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the swear word they use is “damn” not something more hard core that we students are used too.

Nonetheless the word “damn” can help make our messages more persuasive and could lead our poor audience to perceive us as intense speakers. So next time you want to make an impact make sure you use the word damn. The benefits are pretty damn good ;). 


Fine, M. G., & Johnson, F. L. (1984). Female and male motives for using obscenity. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 3, 59–74.
Scherer, C. R., & Sagarin, B. J. (2006). Indecent influence: The positive effects of obscenity on persuasion. Social Influence, 1, 138-146.

Akshay Shah (blog 3)


  1. Wow! This is so cool!

  2. Well done, definitely made me think about my swearing in class ; )


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