Politicians: Want to get elected? Using swear words could help
A recent study featuring blog posts from fictitious Italian politicians found the use of swear words made candidates sound more relatable.
Fri, May 09, 2014 at 09:59 AM
Political speeches are often full of hard language that distances the politician from his or her audience. Making speeches more informal could help with popularity, a new study suggests. (Photo: wellphoto/Shutterstock)
Male politicians may want to let loose a few swear words next time they're giving a speech, as new research suggests the cursing may help win voters' approval.
In the study, the researchers found that potential voters who read blogs posts written by fictional male politicians saw the politicians in a more positive way if the post included a couple of swear expressions, such as "a situation that pissed off everyone" and "is up sh** creek".
"Often political language is perceived as hard, and politicians are seen as far from common people, and this is one of the reasons for the negative evaluation of them," study author Nicoletta Cavazza at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy wrote in an email.
"We think that informality in political language makes the audience feel close to that politician, because vulgarity is widespread and particularly associated to friendly conversations and contexts," Cavazza told Live Science.
In the study, the researchers examined how people reacted to the use of two swear words in fictitious blog posts written by fictitious politicians who were supposedly running in local elections in Italy. A total of 101 study participants ages 20 to 68 read the posts and responded to questions about how they perceived the politicians. The link between swearing and better impressions of the candidates did not apply to the blog posts authored by fictional female politicians, as most voters generally perceived those politicians as positive regardless of whether or not their blog posts included curse words. (The researchers actually wrote all of the blog posts, though they told participants a fake politician wrote them.)
"This is quite surprising, because we expected that a woman cursing would induce a worse impression due to gender role expectations," as women are generally expected to be kind and calm, not the type to curse, Cavazza said. "However, as women are rare in politics, it may be that her gender has catalyzed the attention and hidden the details of language." [Busted! 6 Gender Myths in the Bedroom & Beyond]"
The use of swear words makes the politicians sound less formal, the researchers said, which may make people feel close to the politicians and thus perceive them in a more positive way.
Still, the study did not show that the more swear words male politicians used, the stronger the positive effect was, the researchers said.
"Probably there is a 'saturation point,' that is, an amount of vulgarity that backfires," Cavazza said. The researchers are now trying to see how many curse words are too many and how different curse words may affect the way people perceive politicians, she said.
The study was published online May 1 in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology.
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