Swearing is Good for Us and Makes Us Happy
I love it when science supports my previously held prejudices.
So is the case with a plethora of studies that show that swearing is good for us. All I can say to these findings is….damn straight!
In one study at Keane University in New Jersey, students had their hands dipped in icy water. One group could swear profusely while having their hands frozen, the other could not. The swearers were able to endure the discomfort for longer. The researchers concluded that the moment of release that comes with cussing causes people to not give up so quickly when things don’t go their way. So, entrepreneurs, please commence cussing when confronted by indifference, scorn, or active opposition by the world around you.
Cussing can also increase our pain tolerance. Dr. Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University in England and author of Black Sheep: The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad, whose academic work centers around studies on the effects of cursing, notes that swearing is part of the fight-or-flight response. Swearing releases chemicals in the brain like dopamine and epinephrine. These can induce analgesia, or the ability to withstand pain. Holy shit!
But scientists are finding not all swearing is the same. “Social Swearing” is a way of bonding with the tribe. The curse words don’t have value because of their literal meanings, but rather, what they represent to the group, whether that is a sports team or a work clique. “Annoyance Swearing,” in contrast, is a simple release; the “Dammit!” when the hammer inadvertently hits your thumb. Studies have found that Social Swearing rises as stress increases. Imagine the Marine recruits egging each other forward during edge-of-tolerance drills. “Come on, you lily-livered mofos, get your asses in gear.” “Suck it up and get over that damn hill!” Annoyance Swearing drops with stress as individuals adjust to their not necessarily pleasant circumstances. “Well, that sucks.”
These studies have given rise to a full-blown behavioral model for how swearing is a sign God loves us and wants us to be happy:
According to Richard Stephens, “Swearing is handled by the brain differently than regular language. While most language is located in the cortex and specific language areas in the left hemisphere of the brain, swearing might be associated with a more rudimentary, older area of the brain.” Specifically, the amygdala — our so-called alligator brain that controls low-level protective functions like fight or flight. In other words, swearing is literally hard-wired into our most basic, elemental brain waves.
Alas, the science also shows that incessant swearing may dull these beneficial responses. If you curse constantly, you lose the mojo. Swearing helps most when reserved for high-stress moments. “Overuse of swear words can water down their emotional effect. Swearing can be an effective and readily available short-term pain reliever if used in moderation,” said Professor Stephens. “If you’re used to swearing all the time, our research suggests you won’t get the same effect.”
By Managing Partner Mike Edelhart