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Swearing, euphemisms, and linguistic relativity.

Bowers JS, Pleydell-Pearce CW - PLoS ONE (2011)

Bottom Line: It is argued that the heightened response to swear words reflects a form of verbal conditioning in which the phonological form of the word is directly associated with an affective response.Euphemisms are effective because they replace the trigger (the offending word form) by another word form that expresses a similar idea.We relate these findings to the linguistic relativity hypothesis, and suggest a simple mechanistic account of how language may influence thinking in this context.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, England. j.bowers@bris.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
Participants read aloud swear words, euphemisms of the swear words, and neutral stimuli while their autonomic activity was measured by electrodermal activity. The key finding was that autonomic responses to swear words were larger than to euphemisms and neutral stimuli. It is argued that the heightened response to swear words reflects a form of verbal conditioning in which the phonological form of the word is directly associated with an affective response. Euphemisms are effective because they replace the trigger (the offending word form) by another word form that expresses a similar idea. That is, word forms exert some control on affect and cognition in turn. We relate these findings to the linguistic relativity hypothesis, and suggest a simple mechanistic account of how language may influence thinking in this context.

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Mean electrodermal activity (EDA) invoked by stimulus onset across the four conditions.
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pone-0022341-g002: Mean electrodermal activity (EDA) invoked by stimulus onset across the four conditions.

Mentions: Participants made no naming or categorization errors during the experiment. Figure 2 displays mean EDA across conditions. The data indicate that real swear words invoked the greatest electrodermal response, followed by euphemistic versions of the swear words. Neutral words and their euphemism equivalents produced a much smaller overall response. Data were analysed in two ways. First, a mean response for each of the four conditions (averaged across trials) was derived over a period from 3 s to 6 s following stimulus onset. The first 3 s period was avoided due to presence of participant's initial vocal response. Each mean amplitude was itself baselined with respect to a 1 s period prior to stimulus onset (word or euphemism). Henceforth we term this measure 'trial amplitude' (TA). However, EDA values are known to vary considerably across participants [19]. Thus, a second measure involved normalising EDA measures by conversion to standard (z) scores. The normalisation was applied after condition averages were truncated to a 10 Hz sampling rate. Each of the four condition averages (within participant) supplied 30 data points (3 s×10 Hz  = 30) and z scores were based upon calculation of standard deviations across the entire range of 120 points within the measurement window (30 points×4 conditions). Thus while the overall mean of the four conditions (within participant) was equal to zero, between condition differences were preserved. After this correction was applied, a normalised trial amplitude (NTA) was derived in the same manner as described earlier for TA.


Swearing, euphemisms, and linguistic relativity.

Bowers JS, Pleydell-Pearce CW - PLoS ONE (2011)

Mean electrodermal activity (EDA) invoked by stimulus onset across the four conditions.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3140516&req=5

pone-0022341-g002: Mean electrodermal activity (EDA) invoked by stimulus onset across the four conditions.
Mentions: Participants made no naming or categorization errors during the experiment. Figure 2 displays mean EDA across conditions. The data indicate that real swear words invoked the greatest electrodermal response, followed by euphemistic versions of the swear words. Neutral words and their euphemism equivalents produced a much smaller overall response. Data were analysed in two ways. First, a mean response for each of the four conditions (averaged across trials) was derived over a period from 3 s to 6 s following stimulus onset. The first 3 s period was avoided due to presence of participant's initial vocal response. Each mean amplitude was itself baselined with respect to a 1 s period prior to stimulus onset (word or euphemism). Henceforth we term this measure 'trial amplitude' (TA). However, EDA values are known to vary considerably across participants [19]. Thus, a second measure involved normalising EDA measures by conversion to standard (z) scores. The normalisation was applied after condition averages were truncated to a 10 Hz sampling rate. Each of the four condition averages (within participant) supplied 30 data points (3 s×10 Hz  = 30) and z scores were based upon calculation of standard deviations across the entire range of 120 points within the measurement window (30 points×4 conditions). Thus while the overall mean of the four conditions (within participant) was equal to zero, between condition differences were preserved. After this correction was applied, a normalised trial amplitude (NTA) was derived in the same manner as described earlier for TA.

Bottom Line: It is argued that the heightened response to swear words reflects a form of verbal conditioning in which the phonological form of the word is directly associated with an affective response.Euphemisms are effective because they replace the trigger (the offending word form) by another word form that expresses a similar idea.We relate these findings to the linguistic relativity hypothesis, and suggest a simple mechanistic account of how language may influence thinking in this context.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, England. j.bowers@bris.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
Participants read aloud swear words, euphemisms of the swear words, and neutral stimuli while their autonomic activity was measured by electrodermal activity. The key finding was that autonomic responses to swear words were larger than to euphemisms and neutral stimuli. It is argued that the heightened response to swear words reflects a form of verbal conditioning in which the phonological form of the word is directly associated with an affective response. Euphemisms are effective because they replace the trigger (the offending word form) by another word form that expresses a similar idea. That is, word forms exert some control on affect and cognition in turn. We relate these findings to the linguistic relativity hypothesis, and suggest a simple mechanistic account of how language may influence thinking in this context.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus