Want to improve your athletic performance? You might try dropping a few F-bombs.
Dr. Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at England's Keele University, has an interest in profanity. His past research showed that swearing increases pain tolerance (he also researches "the psychology of alcohol and the alcohol hangover," so he knows something about pain).
Swearing apparently triggers the body's "fight or flight" response, which can lead to a form of "stress-induced analgesia." This might explain how cursing can reduce pain. Another part of the "fight or flight" response is a release of adrenaline, leading Stephens to wonder if swearing might also boost athletic performance.
To find out, he and colleague David K. Spierer asked volunteers to ride a stationary bike and perform the Wingate Test, a brutal series of short sprints against maximum resistance that measures peak anaerobic power and capacity. "Vomiting is not uncommon during or shortly afterwards," Stephens informs us.
The volunteers performed the Wingate Test twice, one time repeating a swear word during the 30 seconds of highest resistance, the other using a neutral word. Peak power rose by an average of 4.6 percent when the volunteers swore. But interestingly, Stephens and Spierer found no evidence that swearing during the simulated bike ride produced a fight-or-flight response. Speculating that the physical challenges of the Wingate Test might have masked any kind of adrenaline boost, they decided to try a less strenuous hand-grip test. When the subjects cursed, grip strength increased by 8.2 percent. But just as with the bike ride, there were no signs of a fight-or-flight response.
Stephens hypothesizes that perhaps the improvements in physical performance while swearing are simply the result of "letting go" -- "This would be thanks to an 'I don't care' mindset brought about by swearing," Stephens said. "If true then swearing might also be expected to improve performance of non-strength based physical tasks such as balancing, and perhaps even cognitive performance."
We already know that intelligent people tend to swear more. Maybe all of us can boost our brainpower by uttering a few well-chosen expletives when it's time to perform a difficult task. We won't f**king judge.