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Effect of swearing on strength: Disinhibition as a potential mediator

Stephens, Richard

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Abstract

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.

Citation

Stephens, R., Dowber, H., Barrie, A., Almeida, S., & Atkins, K. (2023). Effect of swearing on strength: Disinhibition as a potential mediator. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76(2), 305-318. https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218221082657

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 7, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 8, 2022
Publication Date 2023-02
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Journal Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Print ISSN 1747-0218
Publisher Routledge
Volume 76
Issue 2
Article Number ARTN 17470218221082657
Pages 305-318
DOI https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218221082657
Keywords Swearing; disinhibition; risk-taking; humour; confidence; mediation
Publisher URL https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218221082657

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