Swearing Is Good for the Economy

Back in 2007, a rash of newspaper articles followed hotly on the release of a study examining the effects of cursing in the modern workplace. Conducted by organizational psychologists in the UK, the researchers found that swearing tended to reinforce group bonds and promoted an atmosphere of productive camaraderie.

In other words, the researchers found that swearing was good for the economy.

In light of this new data, managers were encouraged not to overreact to swearing among team members. Quite the contrary: since the research found that a cursing worker was a productive worker, blue language was now to be interpreted as music to a manager's ears.

Eager to break the good news to the business community and the public at large, mainstream media outlets were quick to sprinkle the Internet with their sage nods of approval:

  1. BBC: Swearing at work can "cut stress"
  2. AFP: Swearing at work boosts team spirt, morale: research
  3. FOXNews.com: Swearing at Work Eases Stress, Boosts Team Spirit
  4. WSJ's Marketwatch.com: What the bleep! Swearing in the office can inspire teamwork

For many people, work is hell. Therefore, swearing at work not only bonds you to your co-workers, it also lessens the pain of being there in the first place.

Now, two academic budget years later, a new swearing study has been released with even more good news for the economy. As it turns out, a good curse now and again appears to buck-up those dutiful soldiers of the commuting classes by making them insensitive to pain.

Researchers at Keele University found that “swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing.”

The study, entitled "Swearing as a Response to Pain," was published at the journal NeuroReport.

The findings are in contrast to an earlier theory that swearing was a signature of "catastrophism" -- or “drama queen” behavior.

As anyone who knows one can tell you, drama queens are characterized by their propensity for emotional exaggeration. Likewise, catastrophism is an irrational assumption that things are worse than they actually are.  A baseball player who suffered from this condition would “strike out” in their mind before they even got to the plate. A.A. Milne's Eeyore springs to mind as a stand-in for someone suffering from a classic case of catastrophism.

But as it turns out, the study found that Eeyore's perpetually pessimistic state of mind was less likely to be relieved by swearing than were those of Pooh Bear or Tiger, whose curses did indeed dull the pain of being a day laborer in Christopher Robin's post-industrial menagerie.

A diminishment in swearing-related hypoalgesia with increased catastrophising may occur because negative emotions induced by swearing spill over into catastrophic thinking in those more predisposed towards catastrophising.

“In other words,” said lead researcher Dr, Richard Stephens, “swearing feeds into catastrophising and is unhelpful for pain tolerance in high catastrophisers.”

In short, the bad news for the perpetually bummed-out Eeyores of the world is that, for them at least, cursing doesn't help.