May 29, 2012

How does a fart in a social setting affect a person's views of the farter?

Okay, I just read an awesome post at Neurotic Physiology about a study called “Toward a social psychology of flatulence: The interpersonal regulation of natural gas”. (The study was published in Psychology: a Quarterly Journal of Human Behavior.) This is a summary of that post, so keep in mind that it’s not mine!

For the study’s first part, the researcher took a group of people, and gave them a series of hypothetical situations in which someone farted. There were asked to rate their opinions of that person in categories like “malicious”, “careless”, or “humorous”, or “unsociable”. The farting was presented in different variables, like:

1) Whether you were in a group of strangers or a group of acquaintances.

2) Whether the fart was loud or silent.

3) Whether the fart was scentless or rank (the word used was in fact “rank”).

4) Whether the fart was deliberate.

5) Whether the person taking the questionnaire and hypothetically farting was male or female.

  • People will rank you politely if your fart is silent and odorless (probably because they couldn't tell), but politeness ratings go down somewhat for the silent and deadly, and take a sharper dive when the fart is LOUD. Sound matters more than smell in terms of politeness, apparently.
  • People will think your loud farts are funny, with people who fart loudly being ranked as more humorous (though women did not find it as funny as men). If they know you did it deliberately, however, they are more likely they rank you as “malicious”, ESPECIALLY if the fart is rank (silent and odorless apparently means you're a relatively good person here).
  • Women are more forgiving of loud, accidental farts and don't ding the farter so much on “politeness”, so your reputation won't take so much of a hit if your fart was obviously an accident, and if you keep it silent. If you don't...well squeak your shoe really hard across the floor at the same time and hope it'll pass. 

For the test’s SECOND part, people were given another hypothetical situation: Suppose you were in a group of strangers or acquaintances and feel a fart coming on. How hard are you going to try to hold it in if:
1) You know it will be almost silent and not smell?

2) You know it will be loud and not smell.

3) You know it will be silent and knock a cow over at 50 paces, or 

4) You know it will be loud and turn the immediate area into a no fly zone.

  • People universally said they'd hold it back the most for the loud and room-clearing variety, and the least for the silent and odorless. But they also said they'd try much harder to hold it back if they knew the fart could be traced to them.

CONCLUSION: If you're in a social situation, and feel a fart coming on, you could try and pass it off as funny, but if you know it's going to be loud, run while you still can. And if you know it's going to stink, try and blame it on someone else. (I've been saying this for years!) Again, thanks to Neurotic Physiology.)

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