In previous work, Richard Stephens and researchers at Keele University found that swearing can help with pain management, making us able to cope with pain for longer by raising the heart rate and triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response.
To build upon these findings, the researchers decided to investigate whether swearing would also boost physical performance during exercise. They asked some participants to swear – with a word they’d typically use if they’d injured themselves, for example - before working out on an exercise bike for 30 seconds or gripping a device which measured hand strength. Another group of volunteers took part in the same exercises, but didn’t swear beforehand: instead, they said a ‘neutral’ word.
Participants were found to be more powerful after saying a swear word than a neutral one: in the cycling test, "on one measure of power in the first five seconds, it was a four percent increase in the swearing versus non-swearing group, then across the full 30 seconds it was about two percent increase," Stephens explained to Newsweek.
"In the grip task they produced about eight percent stronger grip in swearing versus non-swearing," he added.
Unlike the previous study, no physical indicators of a ‘fight or flight’ response were noted, leading researchers to believe that a different mechanism must have been triggered.
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"Quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered. We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully," Stephens concluded when presenting his findings at the British Psychological Society’s annual meeting.
We’ll feel less guilty about swearing (under our breath, of course) during the bootcamp class then…
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