New research demonstrates a link between swearing fluency and emotion

Gamer 200
Posted on 10 February 2017

Keele University psychologist Dr Richard Stephens has published a new research paper which explores how experiencing emotion impacts on people swearing.

Dr Stephens has in the past published research showing that swearing helps people to cope with pain, but now his new study focuses on how a person's emotions can affect the fluency of swearing.

The new research, funded by a British Psychological Society Undergraduate Research Assistantship, investigated how swearing and emotion are linked. During the study psychology student Amy Zile asked volunteers to play a first person shooter video game with the aim of causing a heightened emotive response. A golf video game was used for comparison purposes.

After playing the game volunteers were asked how many different swear words they could think of in a minute, known as the Swearing Fluency Task, a procedure developed by psychologists in the US. The volunteers who played the first person shooter game had a raised state of aggression and swore more in the Swearing Fluency Task compared with the golf video game.

The findings show there is a direct connection between swearing and emotional arousal. Although this may seem obvious, this research confirms such a link objectively. The findings cast new light on opinions around whether swearing may be considered to be a socially acceptable way of expressing emotion.

In an article published in The Conversation Dr Stephens said: “We appear to have established a two-way relation between swearing and emotion. Not only can swearing provoke an emotional response [as shown in the swearing and pain research] but raised emotional arousal has been shown to facilitate swearing, or at least one aspect of it, swearing fluency.

“These psychology studies demonstrate that there is more to swearing than routine offense-causing or a lack of linguistic hygiene. Language is a sophisticated toolkit and swearing is a useful component.

“When I am giving talks on the psychology of swearing I usually end with transcripts of the final utterances of fatal air-crash pilots, captured on the black box flight recorder because, unsurprisingly, many of these feature swearing. I use it to emphasise an important point: that swearing must be important given its prominence in matters of life and death.”