Blog Archives

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

Top trumps: A brief look at ‘fartomania’

“I’m only interested in heavy metal [music] when it’s me playing it. I suppose it’s a bit like smelling your own farts” (quote by John Entwistle, bassist with The Who)

Despite the fact that the average person breaks wind 14 times a day, farting is one of those subjects and behaviours that tend to elicit two main responses – laughter or disgust (and embarrassment if someone farts in a situation that they would rather not have). In my early teens I remember watching a drama on television in 1979 about a professional farting entertainer starring comic actor Leonard Rossiter (i.e., it was about a guy who could fart at will and who made his professional living as an entertainer). I later found out that Rossiter was playing Joseph Pujol (1857-1945), the French flatulist (i.e., professional farter sometimes referred to as ‘fartiste’ or ‘farteur’) who performed under the stage name Le Pétomane. Pujol’s stage name literally means “fartomaniac” (as it combines the French verb ‘to fart’ [péter] alongside the French word for ‘maniac’ [-mane]). Pujol was able to control his farting via a rectal ‘inhalation’ method that allowed him to control the air with his anal sphincter muscles.

In researching this article, I only came across one academic reference to ‘fartomania’. In a 2002 issue of the Journal of the History of Sexuality, Dr. Frank Proschan wrote a paper about Paul Michaut, a French physician and member of the Société d’anthropologie de Paris. Dr. Proschan recounted that Michaut had spent the late nineteenth century studying medical, erotic, and scatological matters in South East Asia. One of the topics that Michaut wrote on was “fartomania” but Proschan’s paper did not give any details as to what Michaut had uncovered on this subject.

Perhaps the most infamous ‘fartomaniac’ was Adolf Hiter. I wrote about Hitler in a previous blog on coprophilia but according to his medical reports, Hitler is believed to have suffered from “uncontrollable flatulence”. The reason for this is thought to have been Hitler’s regular and seemingly relentless diet of prescription drugs and illicit drugs. His medical records also indicated that he took up to 28 different drugs to attempt to restrain his excessive flatulence. An article in Intelligent Life magazine noted that:

“Medical historians are unanimous that Adolf was the victim of uncontrollable flatulence. Spasmodic stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea, possibly the result of nervous tension, had been Hitler’s curse since childhood and only grew more severe as he aged. As a stressed-out dictator, the agonising digestive attacks would occur after most meals”.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the novelist James Joyce who appeared to have many sexually paraphilic interests including somnophilia and coprophilia. However, I have since come across references to Joyce’s obsession with farting in his many letters to his wife (Nora). For instance, one of his letters to Nora said:

 “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have”.

There are also a number of reports that claim Mozart was “obsessed” with farting and scatalogia (which biographers attribute to alleged Tourette’s Syndrome), and which made many appearances in his “excrement-obsessed” letters. He even wrote a song called Lick Out My Arsehole. However, for some people, flatulence appears to be something that borders on the excessive and/or obsessive. The word ‘fartaholic’ appears in the online Urban Dictionary and is defined as one who is addicted to farting, passing gas, breaking wind, fumigating the room, etc.”

While I was researching my previous blog on eproctophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal and pleasure from flatulence), I came across these confessions online (click on the ‘extract’ number to go to the original source of each quote):

  • Extract 1: “My name is Phil Philups. I am 105 years old, and I am addicted to smelling my own farts. It all started 40 years ago when my first grandchild was born. Whenever I changed her diaper, she would always fart. I soon realized that I love the smell. I would always offer to change her diaper, just so I could get a whiff of it. Ah, the sweet smell of gassy fumes. But eventually she grew up. I no longer had a diaper to change. As I had no more grandchildren, much to my dismay. That’s when it really started. Eventually, I realized that my own farts smell just as good. As soon as the fumes drifted up my nose, I was happy again. I would go into a closet and just let rip. I would sit there for hours, engulfing the scent…At night, I would stick my head under the covers and take in the sweet scent, so I was satisfied until morning. When I was alone, I found jars and let out my precious juices into them, so I could use them later, when I could not force myself to fart. I know this is weird, so I would like help”.
  • Extract 2: “This sounds like a silly problem and some of you may laugh, but I love the smell of farts. If someone farts I have to go over and smell it, and I especially love smelling farts in the bath. I know this sounds disgusting or crude or whatever, but I think I need help. I’m the only person I know who enjoys this. I confided in my friend and she looked at me like I was psycho. Is there something wrong with me? Please help”
  • Extract 3: “Is it normal to think that my fart smells really good? Every time I fart, I wait for it to get to my nose and I sniff it really hard. It smells fine for me. It only happens to my own fart. I think other people’s fart smells gross. I wait for my fart and I smell it every time! It smells good and I feel like I’m addicted to it! I couldn’t help but sniff it in”
  • Extract 4: “My guy farts so much and when we are round his house he decides to fart on his cat’s head and then he sometimes does it up against the wall so it sounds louder. I’m getting scared. Sometimes he farts on me too. I don’t know how to stop him”
  • Extract 5: It’s killing me, everywhere I go if someone farts I’m right there sniffing it. How do I stop my addiction to fart sniffing?”

These short accounts did make me ask to what extent can farting be considered an addiction. In my eproctophilia blog (examining individuals who are sexually aroused by flatulence), there certainly seemed to be some evidence that some individuals seem to be obsessed with farting, and the self-confessed online admissions above (if true, and I can’t guarantee that they are) are suggestive of some people’s enjoyment of farting – beyond what most people would see as normal. However, I can’t ever imagine that the topic would become a topic of psychological research unless it leads to a negative psychosocial impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Gore-Langton, R. (2004). I know what made Mozart tic. Daily Telegraph, October 13. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3625399/I-know-what-made-Mozart-tic.html

The Inquisitor (2012). Adolf Hitler was a farting coke head, study finds. May 4. Located at: http://www.inquisitr.com/230386/adolf-hitler-was-a-farting-coke-head-study-finds/#pRE7dLhQKcyh9DEe.99

Intelligent Life (2007). The madman at the breakfast table: Hitler was even sicker than you thought. November 7. Located at: http://moreintelligentlife.com/node/399

Jameson, C. (2010). 6 famous geniuses you didn’t know were perverts. Cracked.com, June 1. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_18559_6-famous-geniuses-you-didnt-know-were-perverts.html

Proschan, F. (2002). Syphilis, Opiomania, and Pederasty: Colonial Constructions of Vietnamese (and French) Social Diseases. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11, 610-636.

Wattpad (2012). My strange addiction (4: Gassy fumes). Located at: http://www.wattpad.com/4112339-my-strange-addiction-4-gassey-fumes

Wikipedia (2012). Le Pétomane. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Pétomane