After hearing me swear on the playground in fifth grade, Mrs. Pearson dropped the following gem on me: ‘people who swear are idiots that can’t find better words to use in their place.’ I’m paraphrasing, so don’t be an asshole if I got the quote wrong. Fifth grade was a long time ago.
As it turns out, she wasn’t wrong.
A recent study suggests what we say on Twitter profoundly impacts how others perceive us. Specifically, the use of swear words and conversational language.
Researchers asked 481 participants to categorize 1,000 tweet authors by perceived education level. The participants were given only the content of social media posts — no images, video, or bio information — to make their best guess. Overwhelmingly, the group lumped those who used swear words in the ‘uneducated’ category.
While split evenly — 33 percent at each education level — the participants presumed only 4 percent of the sample to be highly educated while highly overestimating the number of uneducated individuals, mostly due to swearing.
Although considered to be a “highly salient” example of inaccurate stereotyping, there were some other interesting findings in the study. Conversational language, like ‘gonna,’ ‘lol,’ and ‘wanna,’ led to the belief users were uneducated. Words like ‘tech’ and ‘web,’ were associated with smarter individuals. Overall, though, one thing is clear: no one in the study presumed highly educated people used swear words.
Lead author of the study, Jordan Carpenter, told Quartz:
I think this is because people have especially rigid stereotypes for this group. They expect them to all talk like tweed-wearing English professors.
Researchers then went further down the rabbit hole with a new group of participants in the same trial. This time, they were asked to make snap judgments about gender and political affiliation based on tweets. Those who employed a touch of femininity in their tweets were presumed liberal, while masculine-sounding language led to being classified as conservative.
Of all the stereotypes, the group did nail one key category: tweeters that talked about tech were overwhelmingly presumed to be male. “Almost every woman who posted about technology was inaccurately believed to be a man,’ says Carpenter.
Even in the theoretical world tech has a sexism problem.
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