Dr. Richard Stephens

Title: Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Phone: +44 (0)1782 733600
Email: r.stephens@keele.ac.uk
Location: Dorothy Hodgkin Building 1.75
Role: Research Leader of the Psychobiology Research Laboratory; Director of Psychology BSc courses; Workplace Safety Advisor.
Contacting me: My office hours in semester 1 are Mondays 1-3pm.

Latest News

My research on the psychology of swearing was featured on Have I Got News For You in May 2017.

My popular psychology book, Black Sheep: The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad, was published to a rave review in New Scientist. I'm pleased to say that it was the WINNER of the British Psychological Society Book of the Year Award, 2016, in the popular science category.

Here are some of my TV appearances: BBC Breakfast 19.06.2015, The One Show 01.06.2015, BBC TV's The Truth About Alcohol 18th June 2016, ITV THis Morning 16.12.2016.

Read my pieces on Apologising (Mail Online), swearing fluency (The Independent)the psychology of swearing (The Independent), physical attraction (The Observer), smiling (The Guardian), and near death experience (The Guardian).

I was the winner of the fourth Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize, 2014.

For latest updates follow me on twitter: @psychologyrich

Interested in doing a PhD in my areas of psychology? The research institute at Keele has an annual competition for fully funded PhD studentships. Please get in touch by email if you are interested.


Career History

I've been a professional psychologist for over 20 years. I've been at Keele University since 1999, first as a Post-Doc, then a Lecturer, and now a Senior Lecturer in Psychology. Currently I lead the Psychobiology Research Laboratory in the School of Psychology and I am the Senior Tutor. Beyond Keele I am Chair of the British Psychological Society Psychobiology Section and external examiner at Queen Mary University London and at Surrey University. My previous psychology jobs were with the Health and Safety Executive and the University of Birmingham Institute of Occupational Health. My PhD, 'Chronic neuropsychological health effects in sheep dippers', was supervised by Dr Anne Spurgeon and awarded by Birmingham University in 1996. My first degree, Life Sciences (Psychology) BSc (Hons) was awarded by Westminster University (formerly the Polytechnic of Central London) in 1992.


Our article "Swearing as a response to pain" published in 2009 received international media coverage including BBC television's The One Show ,  CBS television news, BBC Radio 4, Scientific American , ABC news , The Guardian, The Independent, and many others. Subsequently the research has been honoured, if that's the right word, by the receipt of an Ig Nobel prize in 2010. Ig Nobel prizes are awarded for research that "first makes you laugh then makes you think". A follow up paper appeared in Journal of Pain in September 2011. You can see me on Sky TV's Duck Quacks Don't Echo talking about swearing as a response to pain here.


Alcohol Hangover

Despite being the most prevalent and commonly recognised problem experienced in relation to alcohol, alcohol hangover has been a neglected part of the alcohol research scene until recently. In collaboration with Dr Joris Verster of Utrecht University, I was awarded £4,886 by the Alcohol Education and Research Council to fund speaker travel expenses and room hire for a one-day meeting on alcohol hangover research at the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) 33rd Annual Scientific Meeting, June 26-30, 2010, in San Antonio, Texas. It was enjoyable, thought provoking and inspirational to meet hangover researchers from around the world. A brief report of the meeting is available to download here. For more information on alcohol hangover research, please click here.


The private car as a means of mass transport

I have recently become interested in the problems associated with the private car as a means of mass transport and how people experience ceasing or reducing driving. Researching the latter question has prompted me to seek training in qualitative research methods. To that end I have been supported via an ESRC Research Resources Board training bursary.

MSc and PhD Supervision

I'd be very pleased to speak to prospective MSc or PhD students about supervising dissertation research in any of the above areas.

In January 2011 I visited the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus to take part in some TV filming with Stephen Fry and Brian Blessed. The sequence, in which I ran through some of my psychological experiments on swearing with Stephen and Brian, will be included in Fry’s documentary “Planet Word” to be aired on BBC television in Autumn 2011. Click here for a (slightly blurry) picture.

  • Stephens, R, Holloway, K., Grange, J, Owen, L. Jones, K, Kruisselbrink, D. (2017). Does familial risk for alcohol use disorder predict alcohol hangover?  Psychopharmacology, doi:10.1007/s00213-017-4585-x
  • Stephens, R., & Zile, A. (2017). Does emotional arousal influence swearing fluency? Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, doi:10.1007/s10936-016-9473-8
  • Grange, J, Stephens, R, Jones, K, Owen, L. (2016). The Effect of Alcohol Hangover on Choice Response Time. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30, 654-661. doi: 10.1177/0269881116645299
  • Stephens, R., Grant, M.J. (2015). Reporting statistical analyses in peer review journal articles. Health Info Libr J. 32, 81-83. doi: 10.1111/hir.12106.
  • Stephens, R. Grange, J, Jones, K, Owen, L. (2014). A critical analysis of alcohol hangover research methodology. Psychopharmacology, 231, 2223–2236. doi:10.1007/s00213-014-3531-4
  • Tolstrup, J, Stephens, R, Grønbæk, M. (2014). Does the severity of hangovers decline with age? Survey of the prevalence of severe hangover in different age groups. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 38, 466-470. doi: 10.1111/acer.12238
  • Stephens, R. (2013). Swearing - the language of life and death. The Psychologist, 26, 650-653.
  • Partington, S., Partington, E., Heather, N., Longstaff, F., Allsop, S., Jankowski, M., Wareham, H., Stephens, R. & Gibson, A.S. (2013). The relationship between sports participation and drinking behavior among students at English universities. Addiction Research & Theory, 21, 339-347. doi: 10.3109/16066359.2012.727508
  • Stephens, R. & Allsop, C. (2012). Does state aggression increase pain tolerance? Psychological Reports, 111, 311-321.
  • Stephens, R. & Umland, C. (2011). Swearing as a response to pain – effect of daily swearing frequency. Journal of Pain, 12, 1274-1281. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2011.09.004.
  • Stephens, R. & Edelstyn, NMJ. (2011). Do individual differences mediate the cognitive benefits of chewing gum? Psychology, 2, 834-840. 
  • Heffernan, T., Clark, R., Bartholomew, J., Ling, J. & Stephens, R. (2010). Does binge drinking in teenagers affect their everyday prospective memory? Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 109, 73-78. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.12.013
  • Stephens, R., Rutherford,A., Potter, D.&Fernie, G. (2010). Neuropsychological consequences of soccer play in adolescent UK school team soccer players. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 22, 295-303.
  • Ling,J., Luczakiewicz, K., Heffernan, T.M.& Stephens, R. (2010). Subjective ratings of prospective memory deficits in chronic alcohol users. Psychological Reports, 106, 905-917. DOI:10.2466/PR0.106.3.905-917
  • Stephens, R., Atkins, J. & Kingston, A. (2009). Swearing as a response to pain. NeuroReport, 20, 1056-1060. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832e64b1.
  • Stephens, R. & Nte, S. (2009). Development and evaluation of an interactive visual workspace to aid the intuitive understanding of ANOVA (Analysis of Variance). Psychology Learning and Teaching, 8, 14-20.
  • Stephens, R. & Kaufman, A. (2009). The role of long-term memory in Digit-Symbol test performance in young and older adults. Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, 16, 219-240. DOI: 10.1080/13825580802573060.
  • Stephens, R., Ling, J., Heffernan, T.M., Heather, N & Jones, K. (2008). A review of the literature on the cognitive effects of the alcohol hangover. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 43, 163-170 doi:10.1093/alcalc/agm160.
  • Stephens, R. (2006). Age-related decline in Digit-Symbol performance: Eye-movement and video analysis. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 21, 101-107 doi:10.1016/j.acn.2005.08.002
  • Stephens, R., Rutherford, A., Potter, D. & Fernie, G. (2005). Neuropsychological impairment as a consequence of football (soccer) play and football heading: A preliminary analysis and report on school students (13-16 years). Child Neuropsychology, 11, 513-526 doi: 10.1080/092970490959629
  • Stephens, R., & Tunney, R.J. (2004). Role of glucose in chewing gum-related facilitation of cognitive function. Appetite, 43, 211-213 doi:10.1016/j.appet.2004.07.006
  • Stephens, R., & Sreenivasan, B. (2004). The effects of long-term low-level organophosphate exposure on orchard sprayers in England: A neuropsychological investigation. Archives of Environmental Health, 59, 566-574.

Year 1

  • PSY-10016 Research Methods 2 (Module Leader)

Year 2

  • PSY-20018 Cognitive & Biological Research Methods in Psychology (Lecturer)
  • PSY-20005 Biological Psychology, Perceptions and Cognition (Lecturer)

Year 3

  • PSY-30061 Final Year Project (Project Supervisor)
  • PSY-30199 Making a difference with psychology (Lecturer)

Psychobiology Research Laboratory

Research Leader: Dr Richard Stephens
PhD students: Kara Holloway and Olivia Robertson

Previous successes

2009/10 final year undergraduate student and Psychobiology Research Lab member Claire Allsop won the 2010 British Psychological Society Psychobiology Section Undergraduate Project Prize for her project entitled "The effect of manipulated levels of state aggression on pain tolerance".  Claire presented her project at the September 2010 meeting of the BPS Psychobiology Section.