Stacks of papers, books, and folders cram into every available space on your desk, you glance at the clock to see it’s 2:31 a.m., and utter a swear word — you’re up late, again, but far too enmeshed in what you’re doing to even consider getting sleep yet. Perhaps your friends perceive you as an insomniac slob who swears too much; but they probably haven’t heard the good news: Studies suggest these traits are a sign of intelligence.
Popular mythology frequently equates swearing with low intelligence, limited vocabulary, and lower social status. But a study by psychologists Kristin Jay of Marist College and Timothy Jay of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and published in the journal Language Sciences dispels those stereotypes.
Fluency in “taboo words,” they found, parallels fluency in mundane, neutral words — in fact, a billowing vocabulary of curses and slurs indicates a larger vocabulary overall. Those who swear abundantly generally tend to be more eloquent — “fluency is fluency,” the scientists found.
“A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies,” the researchers wrote. “People who use taboo words understand their general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions that must be drawn to use slurs appropriately. The ability to make nuanced distinctions indicates the presence of more rather than less linguistic knowledge, as implied by the POV [Poverty of Vocabulary] view.”
In other words, swearing is in no way indicative of a limited vocabulary, lack of intelligence, or hollow filler when someone can’t find anything better to say.
“The finding goes against some prior research and much popular thinking that sees cursing as a defect,” the Washington Post explained. “Researchers and authors have argued that people who curse a lot are lazy, have a more limited vocabulary, and lack education and self-control.”
Further, people who could rattle off the most swear words in one minute tended to score higher on IQ tests. They also evidenced a trait that’s become somewhat of a rarity in recent times — swearers don’t really give a shit whom they offend — which, whether or not you believe that to be a sign of strength, certainly indicates a freeing level of independence.
Going against that internal, biological clock — the one which, prior to the modern advent of electricity, made humans diurnal creatures — also indicates heightened intelligence. Night owls tend to be smarter people.
If you stay up late, fighting the circadian rhythm, you probably have a higher IQ.
Evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Satoshi Kanazawa, explained in Psychology Today that “more intelligent children grow up to be more nocturnal as adults than less intelligent children.”
A study of young Americans found those with higher IQs tended to go to bed later on weekdays and weekends than their less intelligent counterparts — sleeping patterns and IQ averages are absolutely related, Kanazawa said.
Average brains have been conditioned evolutionarily speaking with wakeful hours in accordance with daylight, whereas inquisitive, intellectual minds seek to defy that natural rhythm.
Night owls generally accomplish more simply by being awake for longer periods.
That messy desk — likely the adulthood manifestation of a messy room your parents so despised — can actually spur creativity and innovation.
On the other hand, people who operate in an ordered, tidy environment tend toward convention and conformity — they play it safe.
As Kathleen Vohs, a psychological scientist with the University of Minnesota, discovered, highly creative people don’t have ordered living or working environments — and it’s a combination that fuels creative thinking and problem solving. Though the more ordered among us — where every object not only has a home but resides there — tend to view the messier folks as slovenly or unorganized, it’s the slobs who actually produce innovative solutions to problems at a far higher rate.
These unfastidious non-conformists came up with 28 percent more creative ideas than their meticulous counterparts with immaculate environs.
“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” Vohs found after conducting a series of experiments. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”
So, if you swear like a sailor late into the night from behind a cluttered desk, fear not — your intelligence speaks for itself.
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