The Second-Hand Effects of Bitching
Winer defines bitching as "incessant complaining about things."
Bitching may be overt (the general sort of griping that is easily recognized
as bitching by all) or covert (as when someone announces ominously to others
that he or she "has a few concerns to air" under the pretext of
being polite). It may also be classified as anticipatory ("Youre
going to make me crazy!"), post hoc ("Why the hell did you do
it that way?") or, in the case of individuals who simply cant
stop themselves from bellyaching, chronic.
Subjects. A gender-balanced pool of participants was recruited from
among the full-time faculty at a major Canadian university (58 tenured and
22 untenured). As was expected for university faculty, none showed any signs
of normal social skills or mental stability. Two subjects were dropped from
the study when it was discovered that they had interests outside their work.
Procedure. The test subjects were exposed to controlled amounts
of bitching from two hired confederates within each relevant university
department. One confederate from each department bitched at the chairperson
during faculty meetings at a self-monitored rate of 1.5 bitches per minute
over a period of 6 minutes. The other confederate sent out three bitchy
e-mail messages per week to each member of the test group. One message consisted
of a screed against the university administration, accusing it of suppressing
academic freedom and calling for the resignation of a randomly selected
senior administrator; another message was a complaint about university parking
policies; and the third was a dire warning about fiscal irresponsibility,
impending budget cuts, and the likelihood of layoffs of untenured staff.
The impact of exposure was assessed by taking blood pressure and cortisol
measurements from each subject at the beginning of each day, and a stool
sample at the end.
Analysis of the data from the daily bitchiness inventories revealed a significant
positive correlation (r = .72, p < .01) between overall bitchiness and
blood pressure levels. What was most striking about the results of the study,
however, was the finding that second-hand bitching was even more harmful
to the test subjects than their own self-generated whining. Hearing the
confederate bitch during faculty meetings and reading bitchy e-mail resulted
in significantly higher blood pressure readings, abnormally elevated cortisol
levels, and increased anal retentiveness.
Bitchiness levels in the university context are known to exceed those in
most other workplace settings (except the civil service) by a factor of
almost 3.5279. For this reason the finding of adverse effects of exposure
to second-hand bitching is particularly alarming. However, medical professionals
have devoted far too much energy to the treatment of the effects of second-hand
bitching. Instead of treating the effects, they should be focussing on the
root of the problem. We therefore concur with Carpers view that
bitching reduction and cessation programs within the workplace are highly
advisable. Although hypnosis and cognitive therapy have been shown to be
of limited value in stopping people from bitching, in extreme cases, taping
shut the mouth of the offending person may be necessary.
1. "A Few Quibbles About Bitching," B. Winer, Journal of Implied
Linguistics, vol. 3, 1973, pp. 45-9802.
2. "Etiology and Epidemiology of Bitching," B. Whimper and B. Snipe, Bitch Studies Quarterly, vol. 5, 1997, pp. 200-302.
3. "Control of Bitching Through Repeated Slapping," B. Carper,
Journal of Applied Punishment, vol. 66, 1998, pp. 72-85.
© Copyright 2001 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)