If you've ever lifted something unexpectedly heavy while uttering coarse expletives, you'll be happy to learn that psychologists have now shown that swearing aloud actually makes you a little bit stronger.
A few years ago Dr Richard Stephens at Keele University determined that swearing can have a pain-lessening effect. Across a pain tolerance study Dr Stephens discovered that subjects could submerge their hand in ice water for a longer period of time when repeating a swear word of their choice.
As a follow-up the team recently conducted two more experiments to try and understand the broader effects of swearing on strength. The first test looked at anaerobic power, testing 29 subjects to a short run on an exercise bike. The second experiment involved 52 participants undergoing an isometric handgrip test.
The participants undertook both tests twice, once while repeating a neutral word and then while repeating a swear word of their choice. Similar to Dr Stephens' previous pain tolerance study, the participants were directed to utter that swear words in a calm tone.
Across both experiments it was shown that swearing increased strength, either by way of greater power in the first cycling test or a stronger handgrip in the second test.
The new study still leaves us with the mystery of why swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance. After the earlier pain tolerance experiments Dr Stephens hypothesized that swearing could stimulate the body's sympathetic nervous system, which would certainly result in the observed mild increases in strength and pain tolerance. But in the latest study the team found no evidence of a stimulated sympathetic nervous system.
"When we measured heart rate and some other things you would expect to be affected if the sympathetic nervous system was responsible for this increase in strength, we did not find significant changes. So quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered," said Dr Stephens.
While the mystery as to why swearing making you stronger still remains, this latest study offers a little of bit of scientific justification to back you up next time you swear really loudly when trying to move something heavy.
Source: British Psychological Society via Eurekalert