While it may not always be appropriate, swearing appears to be a natural part of human evolution, something that has grown over the span of our species to help us deal with stress. According to a new study, this emotional reaction—also known as cussing—seems to increase pain tolerance while also triggering adrenaline response. In all, then, researchers say that the new data informs that swearing might actually be quite beneficial for high physical stress situations, including exercise.
In the new study, researchers had volunteers submerge their hand into ice water for as long as they could physically withstand. In the first round of the trial, the participants were allowed to choose their favorite swear word to repeat aloud for the full duration their hand remained underwater. In the second round of the trial, the participants were instructed to replace the swear word with a common adjective describing household items.
The result was somewhat surprising: the swear words, somehow, helped increase pain tolerance when compared against the common adjective.
According to Dr. Richard Stephen of Keele University, “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. Stephen says, thus, the same concept could be applied to physical exertion. Using the same model, participants were asked to perform short, intense exercise on a stationary bike. Sure enough, they determined that swearing increased the efficacy of their workouts.
The conclusion, then, is that obscene language—in general—improves physical strength and muscle performance. While the reason for this is still uncertain, the researchers suggest that swearing developed as a tool of the human physiological “fight or flight” response.
Dr. Stephens goes on to say, “Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistics phenomenon. It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists.”