Swearing can increase self-confidence, physical strength and risky behaviour
Keele University researchers have found that swearing can increase self-confidence and risk-taking behaviour, as well as boosting physical strength.
Led by Dr Richard Stephens, the team carried out a study which aimed to identify the psychological pathway by which swearing can have beneficial effects on physical tasks. They were particularly interested in whether swearing increased ‘state disinhibition’, which is a state of lowered self-control and lack of restraint.
The study, which has been published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that participants could perform a chair push-up - lifting oneself from a chair seat using the arms - for longer after repeating a swear word.
Participants also displayed more risk-taking behaviour in an online task involving pumping up a balloon as much as possible without it bursting. Risk-taking behaviour increased by 8% when using swear words whilst pumping up the balloon, compared to using neutral dialogue
The humorous quality of swearing was also found to be an important psychological route for boosting physical strength, akin to ‘letting-go’.
The researchers hope that this evidence can benefit society by helping individuals to improve personal performance, for example gaining increased self-confidence by using swear words as preparation for performing in front of large public audiences.
Dr Stephens said: “Swearing appears to produce a state of ‘hot cognitions’ helping us downplay everyday fears and concerns. This can lead to benefits in some situations, such as physical strength, shown by our participants being able to hold the chair push-up for a longer time after swearing.
“We provided evidence of several possible psychological routes by which this may come about, all related to lowering self-control or ‘letting go’ - but humour, the funny side of swearing, turned out to be the most important of the factors we assessed. Comedians have long known the link between laughter and a well-placed swear word. Our study suggests generating humour may be one element by which swearing can help people in everyday situations, by just ‘going for it’ a little more.”