Swearing, an almost involuntary behavior for some, is a phenomenon that has received little attention from researchers. Studies have been conducted on the effects of swearing on pain, suggesting that swearing can actually reduce pain. But the research that exists is narrow and does not explore biological or social factors related to swearing. To fill that evidentiary void, Megan L. Robbins of the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona, recently led a study examining the social consequences of swearing. “Based on these ideas, this study explored the degree to which swearing can have deleterious consequences for health, despite any potential for immediate (pain relieving) benefits,” said Robbins. “The current project investigated the relationship between swearing and adjustment to coping with illness.”
Robbins chose women with breast cancer (BC) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for her study. Snippets of the women’s verbal utterances were recorded using a daily electronic recorder. Additionally, the women recorded how much emotional support and depression they experienced throughout each day. Robbins found that contrary to previous studies, swearing was not beneficial for the women in her study. “These results suggest that spontaneous swearing in daily life can in certain contexts (a) undermine psychological adjustment and (b) potentially affect emotional support in the coping process,” said Robbins. “These findings are consistent with past self-report research showing that swearing has the potential to repel social support, particularly among females, and that undermined social support can increase the risk of depression.”
The results of the study show that women dealing with a chronic illness may compromise their overall well-being when they rely on swearing as a coping mechanism. “Because swearing is a highly automatic behavior, getting patients to stop swearing might be difficult. Instead, clinicians might effectively interrupt this psycho-social process by intervening with support providers.” Robbins added, “For example, couple-focused interventions could discuss the ‘side effects’ of swearing with partner.”
Robbins, Megan L., Elizabeth S. Focella, Shelley Kasle, Ana Maria Lopez, Karen L. Weihs, and Matthias R. Mehl. “To Conclude, This Is One of the First Studies to Provide Evidence of How Swearing Is Implicated in the Coping Process. It Highlights a Potential Cost of Swearing—that It Can Undermine Psychological Adjustment, Possibly via Repelling Emotional Support.” Health Psychology 30.6 (2011): 789-92. Print.