Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Swearing has its plus side

As someone who doesn’t swear a lot and gets a bit embarrassed when I hear young women using profanities I was surprised to read some of the latest research on this subject.

Researchers have discovered that as much as fine words might inspire you actually swearing gives you strength.

Psychologists led by Richard Stephens from Keele University measured people’s grip strength and exercise bike performance. They found they did better if they were allowed to swear at the researchers while doing it. 

Stephens wanted to investigate the power of swearing as “there are strong links between swearing and emotional arousal” and wanted to see how deep the links went. Earlier research had found that people resisted pain better if they were allowed to swear.

In his pain research he had people holding their hand in iced water for as long as they could. They were allowed to repeat a swear word of their choice or a neutral word. Those swearing lasted longer but their heart rate increased. He wondered whether it was connected to the fight or flight response in which case they might also be stronger when swearing as they prepared themselves for action.

So swearing during the strength tests proved effective – but there was no evidence of a fight or flight response. However swearing lessens pain and when people felt less pain they were stronger.

Stephens wonders whether or not the fact that the people in the experiment knew the words were taboo but said them anyway somehow loosened up their constraints and let them go for it a bit more.

So expect more cursing down the gym any day now!

And in a completely different field of endeavour, book publishing, it seems that they have overcome the traditional reluctance to use swear words on the cover of their books. Because they sell more!

Last year there were 181 titles with the F word in the title, three times more than the previous year. And titles with the word shit in them have doubled (so have shit titles in my view but that’s another story).

So you can buy cookbooks, style books, colouring books and self-help manuals all featuring the F word.



I’m stressed – gaze into my eyes

Researchers at the University of Trier in Germany have discovered that stressed men prefer women who look nothing like them whilst unstressed men prefer women who have similar features.

Something to do with evolution and genetic diversity in the face of risky environments –  expanding the gene pool for stronger offspring (but of course the vikings knew that when they went off to do a bit of pillaging).

It’s also been found that men flinch less when subjected to sudden bursts of noise when looking at someone they are attracted to. A good reason to have attractive dental nurses I would have thought.

Updated 1 October 2010: Researchers at Keele University who discovered that people could cope for longer with pain when they were swearing (as opposed to using neutral words) have been awarded the Ig Nobel prize by Harvard University. These awards recognise research that makes you laugh – then think, so not completely bad science.

Perhaps on that basis Gordon Ramsay, who had been recorded at 3 swear words a minute over a 100 minutes, should be totally pain free?