Real Life

Five Bad Habits That Actually Mean You’re Brilliant (According To Science)

Conventional wisdom will tell you that nail-biters are neurotic, gossipers are mean and sweary types are arrogant.

But us humans are complicated souls and not every trait plays to its stereotype.

In fact, sometimes, our greatest so-called "weaknesses" can also be our most formidable strengths.

Here we reveal the hidden scientific benefits of common "bad" habits, from daydreaming to talking to yourself, and beyond.

Read on, and get set to delight in your imperfections; they're merely a sign of your inner genius, after all...

1. The nail-biting perfectionist

Can't resist a good old gnaw of your nails? Most people believe this is a nervous habit, governed by the need to release anxiety.

Most people, however, are misguided.

A 2015 study connected nail-biting and other compulsive behaviours to high-flying, perfectionist personalities.

The research, published in the catchily-named Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, found that nail-biters are more prone to boredom, and experience higher levels of frustration and impatience when they don't achieve their goals, compared to those with flawless cuticles.

"We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviours may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a ‘normal’ pace," said Kieron O’Connor, a lead author of the study.

So the next time you're tempted to chew your talons, remember it's just an indication that you're too damn... perfect.

2. The intelligent daydreamer

Aah, daydreamers. The foggy-minded folk whose heads are stuck in the clouds.

Or not.

A 2012 study in the journal Psychological Science reported a positive link between daydreaming and creative problem-solving

Researchers from the University of California found that people who let their minds wander before a creative challenge performed better as a result, compared to those who had not had the opportunity for daydreaming.

The ability to let one's brain drift has also been linked to greater working memory, the part of the mind that allows us to do multiple things at once. It's a function that is linked to intelligence, such as IQ score and reading comprehension.

The upshot? Daydream all you want (Tom Hardy motifs optional) and revel in your creative prowess.

3. The genius self-talker

If you find yourself muttering out-loud on occasion - on your way home on the 168 bus, perhaps - fret not. It's not a worrying sign. In fact, it means you're a genius.

In a series of experiments, US-based psychologists Daniel Swingley and Gary Lupyan idenfied three major cognitive benefits that arise from the ability to talk to oneself.

They found that self-talk stimulates the memory, helps us to develop a razor-like focus and aids thought clarification, so we can cut through the fluff and nonsense our minds generate more seamlessly.

So rather than hold back on talking out loud, let rip. Every utterance will have your cognitive clogs whirring to boost your natural genius within. Win.

4. The big-hearted gossiper

Picture the office gossip in your head and it'll usually be someone a bit malicious around the edges. Even at its most innocuous, we associate gossiping with small-mindedness.

But that's simply not the case, according to Stanford researchers, who studied the behavioural outcome of gossiping in group contexts.

Their study, reported in the journal Psychological Science, found that the act of gossiping can actually be used as a positive tool to stop bullies, protect "nice people" and encourage cooperation within groups.

"Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don't," said co-author Matthew Feinberg. "And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviours can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society."

In a separate study, scientists found that the brain releases more of the pleasure hormone oxytocin - also associated with sex - when we gossip, compared to other forms of conversation.

So the next time you pass on that tasty snippet of hear-say about Maureen and Dan in accounts, rest assured: you're simply being selfless.

5. The trustworthy swearer

We tend to think those who swear a lot are a bit out of control, irrational even. It denotes a lack of equity.

And yet, a joint group of scientists from the University of Cambridge, Maastricht University, Hong Kong university and Stanford discovered that foul-mouthed people are more honest than their non-swearing counterparts.

The researchers found that participants who were fond of a profanity or two were less likely to filter their language, or indeed any recollection or story.

They concluded that swearers were less affected by the constraints of social convention, which may have persuaded non-swearers to be more nuanced with their version of the truth.

"If you’re trying to follow the social norms rather than saying what you think, you are saying what people want to hear," said Dr David Stillwell, one of the study's authors.

"In that respect you are not being very honest."

Another study found swearers have larger vocabularies than their clean-speaking equivalents.

Foul-mouthed friends: rejoice.

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