Have a bit of a potty mouth problem? Although you might not be the best company for impressionable young children, you could be a beast in the gym. This, according to the results of a recent small-scale study by researchers at England’s Keele University, presented this month by lead author Dr. Richard Stephens at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference.
Completed in conjunction with Long Island University, Brooklyn researchers David Spierer and Emmanuel Katehis, the study involved two experiments. The first experiment tasked 29 people to engage in two short, but intense, stints on an exercise bike. 52 people participated in the second experiment, which involved isometric handgrip tests. Each participant uttered the swear word of their choosing (something they thought they’d say if they smacked their head) before completing one exercise. Before the second, they chose and said a more benign word that described the average table, like “brown.”
The researchers discovered that swearing resulted in a stronger handgrip and greater bicycle power wattage in the respective groups. The million-dollar question of course, is why?
“We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain. A possible reason for this is that it stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system – that’s the system that makes your heart pound when you are in danger,” Dr. Stephens says in a Keele University press release. “If that is the reason, we would expect swearing to make people stronger too – and that is just what we found in these experiments.”
However, he notes that measurements of heart rate and other body functions affected by the sympathetic nervous system didn’t experience significant changes. “So quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered,” he says. “We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully.”
Swearing as a powerful tool? Next thing you know, veggies will turn out to be unhealthy and all of mom’s teachings will effectively go right down the drain.