Stephens, R, Dowber, H, Barrie, A, Almeida, S and Atkins, K (2022) Effect of swearing on strength: Disinhibition as a potential mediator. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. ISSN 1747-0218

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Swearing fulfils positive functions, including benefitting pain relief and physical strength. Here we present two experiments assessing a possible psychological mechanism, increased state disinhibition, for the effect of swearing on physical strength. Two repeated measures experiments were carried out with sample sizes N = 56 and N = 118. Both included the measures of physical performance assessing, respectively, grip and arm strength, and both included the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) to measure risky behaviour. Experiment 2, which was pre-registered, additionally assessed flow, emotion including humour, distraction including novelty, self-confidence, and anxiety. Experiments 1 and 2 found that repeating a swear word benefitted physical strength and increased risky behaviour, but risky behaviour did not mediate the strength effect. Experiment 2 found that repeating a swear word increased flow, positive emotion, humour, distraction, and self-confidence. Humour mediated the effect of swearing on physical strength. Consistent effects of swearing on physical strength indicate that this is a reliable effect. Swearing influenced several constructs related to state disinhibition, including increased self-confidence. Humour appeared to mediate the effect of swearing on physical strength, consistent with a hot cognitions explanation of swearing-induced state disinhibition. However, as this mediation effect was part of an exploratory analysis, further pre-registered experimental research, including validated measures of humour, is required.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Uncontrolled Keywords: Swearing; disinhibition; risk-taking; humour; confidence; mediation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculty of Natural Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2022 11:50
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2022 15:17

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