Study finds relationship between profanity, violence

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A groundbreaking study by a BYU team, published in a prestigious pediatric journal, suggests an association between profanity and violence.

Sarah M. Coyne, a visiting professor of family life, headed the study after realizing she had not seen any studies linking profanity to violence.

“There are over a thousand studies to say that watching violence has an effect on behavior and attitudes … but I couldn’t think of a single study that shows why we are protecting our adolescents from profanity in the media,” Coyne said. “So I decided to do the study.”

According to Laura Stockdale, then a graduate student of marriage, family and human development, the study was conducted in a non-experimental way, which means it could not prove causation.

“All we can say is there is a relationship,” Stockdale said. “Somehow those two variables go together, but we don’t know what is causing it at all.”

Rather than stating profanity directly correlates with violence, the study suggests a trickle-down effect would be a more appropriate explanation.

“The main finding was that exposure to profanity in television and video games was associated with more supportive attitudes concerning profanity,” Coyne said.

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, one of the most difficult journals to be published in and in the top 1 percent of all journals cited.

Although the findings of the study came as no big surprise, the feedback did.

“I was surprised at how much my Mormon religion was brought up,” Coyne said. “I find it really interesting that if I try and say anything negative about the media, then immediately I’m biased, but if I find anything positive about it, they love it.”

Although a portion of the overall feedback was negative, Stockdale said she has also been surprised at how nice some people have been. She said they purposely conducted the study in a way that would prevent biases from those who discredited the team because of their affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Both Coyne and Stockdale agreed they learned a lot from the experience, especially in regard to national media attention, but they wouldn’t change much about the way they conducted their research.

“I firmly believe that the Gospel is true, so I don’t need to go out looking for the Gospel in research,” Stockdale said. “If I do good research, I am going to find the Gospel because it’s true. I don’t have to set up studies proving the Church.”

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