Tales of the unexpected: 10 bad habits that sometimes do us good (Part 2)

In my previous blog I looked at five bad habits that might actually have benefits for psychological and/or physical wellbeing. Here are the next five:

(6) Swearing helps reduce pain and relieve work stress

Although swearing has become increasingly commonplace, most people would agree it is a bad habit. However, research has shown that swearing can help alleviate pain. In an experimental study led by Dr. Richard Stephens (at Keele University, UK) in the journal Neuroreport, results showed that individuals that swore (compared to individuals that didn’t) could endure the pain of putting their hand in a bucket of ice-cold water nearly 50% longer (nearly two minutes for those that swore compared to one minute 15 seconds for those that said a neutral non-swearword instead). Dr. Stephens thought of the idea for doing the study after accidentally hitting his thumb with a hammer while building a garden shed and realizing that simultaneous swearing appeared to help reduce the pain. The researchers speculated that swearing might trigger our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response by downplaying a weakness or threat in order to deal with it. However, there appears to be a caveat. Swearing may only be effective in helping reduce pain if it is a casual habit. Dr. Stephens cautioned that swearing is emotional language but if individuals overuse it, swearing loses its emotional attachment, and is less likely to help alleviate pain. Research published in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal by Professor Yehuda Baruch (University of East Anglia, UK) found that regular use of swearing expressed and reinforced solidarity among staff members. The acts of profanity enabled employees to express their feelings, such as frustration, and develop social relationships.

(7) Being messy helps boost creativity

Being messy – whether it’s a messy work desk or a messy bedroom – has often perceived as a sign of being disorganized. However, recent American research published in the journal Psychological Science by Dr. Kathleen Vohs and colleagues (at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota) suggests that being messy can boost creativity. Vohs and her team carried out a number of experiments and published them in a paper entitled ‘Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity’. In one of the experiments, 48 participants were assigned to either a messy or tidy room. Participants were asked to think up as many uses for Ping-Pong balls, and to write down. Independent judges then rated the participants’ answers for degree of creativity. Results showed that participants in both tidy and messy rooms produced the same number of ideas, but those generating ideas in the messy room were more creative. Those in the messy room were (on average) 28% more creative and were five times more likely to produce “highly creative” ideas. Dr. Vohs concluded that messiness and creativity are very strongly correlated, and that “while cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow”.

(8) Having a lie-in helps reduce heart attacks and strokes

While the old proverb that ‘the early bird catches the worm’ might be true, the old saying ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise’ may not be. According to Dr. Mayuko Kadono, a Japanese physician at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, getting up too early in the morning may have serious health consequences. Kadono has led a number of studies on sleep and its relationship with health. In one of his studies of 3,017 healthy adults, it was reported that those individuals getting up before 5 a.m. and engaging in vigorous exercise have a 1.7 times greater risk of high blood pressure and were twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those who got up two to three hours later. The number of hours slept did not make a difference, only the time of getting up. Dr. Kadono said the results were “contrary to the commonly held belief that early birds are in better health. We need to find what the causes of this are, and whether exercising after waking early is beneficial”. A study conducted by American researchers at Stanford University have reported that the most restorative sleep occurs between 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. More general research has found that getting enough sleep can help individuals’ reduce their stress and boost their memory. In short, it’s better to wake up when your body feels ready to get up (i.e., aligning with your body’s natural circadian rhythm) rather than waking up because your alarm clock has gone off.

(9) Gossiping helps friendships and relieves stress

Gossiping is often perceived as a malicious and untrustworthy behaviour but most individuals appear to like gossiping – particularly if it is about the misfortunes of someone else. One of the reasons we like to hear about other people’s problems is that it makes us feel better about ourselves. However, there is also a growing amount of psychological research showing that gossiping may actually have positive benefits. Gossiping is important in helping us bond with other people, promoting co-operation, forming friendships, and learning about cultural norms. These consequences of gossip make us feel good, and when we feel good it helps us relieve stress, tension, and anxiety. In a recent American study published in the journal Psychological Science by Dr. Matthew Feinberg (Stanford University) and colleagues, it was reported that gossip and ostracism can have positive effects within group situations. According to Feinberg, “groups that allow their members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviors can be misused, [the] findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society”. The evolutionary psychologist Dr. Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford, UK) notes that because language is principally used for the exchange of social information and that such topics are so overwhelmingly important, he concludes that “gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible”.

(10) Burping and farting help relieve bloating and stomach pain

Burping and farting may well be viewed as bad habits, but both are a normal part of the body digestion process, both acts help release unwanted gas that builds up inside the stomach, and both are vital for good gastric health. Farting is particularly beneficial for relieving bloating and preventing oneself from breaking wind can be incredibly painful. Dr Nick Read, a British consultant gastroenterologist warns “If you don’t belch and the gas stays on the stomach, this can cause the valve that separates the gullet and the stomach to relax, allowing stomach acid to splash up into the gullet, triggering heartburn”. In relation to farting he added “We evacuate wind for a reason – it forms in the bowel and we need to get rid of it. Holding it back can also trigger pain. A colleague used to call it Metropolitan Railway Syndrome – all these commuters suffered pain and bloating because they were too embarrassed to break wind on public transport”. All this leads to the conclusion that it’s the act of not burping or farting that should be considered bad habits. Is I was often told by one of my aunts: “It’s better out than in”. And never has a truer word been spoken.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Baruch, Y., & Jenkins, S. (2007). Swearing at work and permissive leadership culture: When anti-social becomes social and incivility is acceptable. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 28(6), 492-507.

Dunbar, R.I. (2004). Gossip in evolutionary perspective. Review of General Psychology, 8(2), 100-110.

Feinberg, M., Willer, R., & Schultz, M. (2014). Gossip and ostracism promote cooperation in groups. Psychological Science, 25, 656-664.

Feinberg, M., Willer, R., Stellar, J., & Keltner, D. (2012). The virtues of gossip: reputational information sharing as prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 1015-1030.

Matsuyama, K. (2011). Early birds linked to higher cardiovascular risk, study says. Bloomberg News. October 20. Located at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-10-20/early-birds-linked-to-higher-cardiovascular-risk-study-says

Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A. (2009). Swearing as a response to pain. Neuroreport, 20, 1056-1060.

Vohs, K.D. (2013). It’s not ‘mess’. It’s creativity. New York Times, September 13. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/opinion/sunday/its-not-mess-its-creativity.html?_r=0

Vohs, K.D., Redden, J.P., & Rahinel, R. (2013). Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity. Psychological Science, 24, 1860-1867.

Wighton, K. (2013). From biting your nails to burping and even eating in bed: The bad habits that can be GOOD for you! Daily Mail, April 8. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2305953/Bad-habits-From-biting-nails-burping-eating-bed-The-bad-habits-GOOD-you.html

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on April 8, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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