The (unexpected) health benefits of swearing

Do you swear like a trooper? Fear not, enthusiastically embracing profanity might be your best health move yet. 

From the likes of Gordon Ramsay, to those who would struggle with the word “bloody”, everyone has an idea of what is acceptable when it comes to swearing.

But there is every chance what we believe may be wrong, Monash University linguistics professor Kate Burridge says.

“Many of us believe that habitual swearing is linked to low intelligence, but plenty of studies show it’s actually linked to higher than average intelligence,” Professor Burridge says.

“It’s to do with fluency – those who are well-educated have more words at their disposal than those who are less verbally fluent, and they are far more creative with them.”

Showcasing your intelligence and creativity might be an excellent start but, luckily, there are also health benefits you can count on, too.

Swearing helps us cope with challenging moments

Why do we feel the urge to swear during overwhelming times?

One thing’s for sure, swearing helps reduce stress levels faster, scientist Dr Emma Byrne says.

“Studies show that when you put people in stressful situations and tell them they can’t swear, their stress increases and their performance is negatively impacted,” the author of Swearing is Good For You says.

Dr Byrne and Prof Burridge point to studies where surgeons and pilots, who are allowed to swear on the job, perform better in difficult situations than those who are not able to.

“It’s the cathartic effect of a well-placed expletive – a feeling that you’ve done something considered taboo – that gives emotional release,” Prof Burridge says.

“In fact, while the disturbing black box recordings of air-crash pilots show plenty of swear words early on in the recording, they are often absent from the final utterances just before the black box flight recorder cuts out.”

Swearing is good for social bonding

A New Zealand study found swearing at work can create a sense of solidarity between colleagues.

“When we use swearing on purpose, we’re often deliberately taking a bit of a risk,” Dr Byrne says.

“You see this particularly in societies where jocular abuse (or banter) is common.

“We’re saying, ‘I trust that you trust me enough to know that I’m not really being an a——e right now’.

“When it’s judged correctly, jokey swearing increases the feeling of trust and group cohesion.”

Swearing can help relieve pain

Slam your finger in a door and you’re better off screaming an obscenity rather than a well-placed ouch. In a study by Keele University, participants were asked to plunge their hand into a tub of iced water and hold it there.

Those who were allowed to swear during the experiment were able to withstand the pain, and hold their hand in the tub for longer, than those who could not.

“What’s interesting with this one is that the effect was diminished in those who were habitual swearers – Gordon Ramsay, for example, wouldn’t see any pain reduction in a similar scenario, but someone who swears occasionally or rarely, would,” Prof Burridge says.

Written by Dilvin Yasa.