When it comes to popular culture, experts say, swearwords make fans feel as though they are part of a select club. “There’s a power to the words because they make you feel as if you fit in, and they identify you as part of a specific demographic,” says Timothy Jay, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who has studied swearing for decades. Brain mapping shows that when we yell a choice word in anger, the brain’s right hemisphere, which reacts to emergencies and helps us process emotion, kicks into gear. Additionally, we get a little goose from the limbic system, which regulates emotion and behavior.
Parental worries about the prevalence of bad language may be overblown. Although swearing appears to be everywhere, it is actually still quite rare. Even if kids are cursing at a younger age, foul language accounts for only 0.3 to 0.7 percent of our daily speech. Experimental psychologist Elisah D’Hooge and her colleagues at Ghent University in Belgium are attempting to explain why.