If you’ve ever let out an F-bomb or two while doing something strenuous (and who among us hasn’t?), keep the curses coming — it’s not vulgar language, it’s a scientifically-proven power boost, according to new research.
A study recently published in the Journal of Psychology of Sports and Exercise found that swearing out loud can increase your physical performance and strength.
Dr. David Spierer of Long Island University Brooklyn and Dr. Richard Stephens of Keele University in the United Kingdom collaborated on a study about the special power of swear words.
Using their respective two labs (one in the United States, one in England) they looked at the connection between curse words and physical performance, building off of Stephens’s previous research that showed the benefits of swearing when it came to physical pain.
Participants in the U.S. completed an intense 30-second stationary bike test twice — once while swearing and once while saying a “neutral” word (they were instructed to pick a word that could describe a table, like “flat” or “round”).
When cursing, participants saw about a 4.6 percent improvement in power.
“That may not seem like a lot if you look at it out of 100,” Spierer said, “but when looking at what 5 percent does for revolutions-per-minute, that is the difference [for an athlete] between first and second place, no doubt.”
In the U.K., study participants did a handgrip strength test and saw an 8.2 percent increase in strength while swearing — or the difference, Spierer described, between being able to open that pesky jar of pickles or not.
Participants weren’t yelling out the curse words at full force or with a “violent” way either, Spierer said. To keep that factor controlled, they methodically said a curse (the most common chosen was the F-word) every three seconds in a “conversational” tone. That’s actually something Spierer said that he does while on a difficult hike.
Methodically cursing, and studying that, may seem silly, Spierer acknowledged, but it’s serious science.
“When we swear, we don’t use the area of the brain that we use for language,” he said. “So there is something else going on when we swear, that our brain is telling us either this is taboo or I’m distracting myself from something else.”
Cursing may also allow people to sort of shut down their inhibitions, he added, and mask the difficulty of a task so they can get a little burst of power.
Spierer and Stephens are already working on a follow-up study to look at the effect of swearing on more common, less intense exercises. The two have a website, swearingmakesyoustronger.com, to help fund their research. They plan to also look into if swearing is linked to our flight-or-fight response, which releases hormones.
“We really want to explore and detail what's going on in the brain when we curse, why does it have this change in our physical performance?” Spierer said.
So, in the meantime, does their research mean that you should mutter obscenities to yourself when you can’t get a jar open? It’s worth a try.
“If you’re having difficulty opening a jar, start cursing and see if it works — it may distract you from how difficult it is,” Spierer said, “and you may be able to generate more force, and the result is opening the jar.”