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MCAT

Unit 4: Lesson 1

Foundations of behavior passages

Physiological stress response to cuss words?

Problem

Language usage can impact the individual in many ways. There are strong internal and external influences that shape and moderate the words that are chosen when speaking. Linguists study taboo words in a variety of contexts including the media, harassment, aggression, as well as many others. Profanity (taboo words) can be expressed in many different modalities, and gestures, behaviors, and words can all be labeled as profane. Profanity is used in many situations depending on the person and is viewed as taboo by some cultures. Often, the use of profane words can evoke strong emotions in both the speaker and the listener.
Linguistic researchers conducted a study to determine whether profane language use caused a stronger stress response in the speaker than the use of neutral words. Each speaker was instructed to read aloud words belonging to one of four categories: words viewed by Western society as profane, neutral words (not emotionally linked such as glue or paper), euphemisms for profane words (such as ‘C-word’ or ‘the F-word’ rather than actually saying the word), or neutral word euphemisms (‘G-word’ rather than green). The speaker’s stress response was recorded through galvanic skin response (a measurement of skin resistance or electrodermal activity). The researcher then asked the respondent if the word was profanity (yes or no). The results are shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Mean electrodermal activity, effect of profane words condition was significant (p < .05)
What is the likely meaning of taboo when used to describe profanity?
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