The Scientific Reasons We Swear

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There is not a single doubt in my mind that everyone swears, whether it's a teenager trying to look cool for their friends or an adult who took the wrong exit and added another 20 minutes to their commute. Swearing is an integral part of our language and culture — but why do we swear? Are there biological roots charging out habit of yelling curse words at certain moments?

It turns out that there might be. An excerpt from the book The Good News About What's Bad For You... The Bad News About What's Good For You by Jeff Wilser on Science of Us delves a little into the biological imperatives that might explain why we swear. One possible explanation involves a now well-known piece of research in which Dr. Richard Stephens had student volunteers dunk their hands into a tub of freezing water and measure how long they could keep their hands in there. The participants were divided into two groups — one who were allowed to swear when they submerged their hands, and one who were told to repeat a non-swear word like "fudge" or "applesauce." Those who uttered their favorite swear words throughout the experiment reported experiencing less pain than those who said neutral words; furthermore, they were able to keep their hands in the tub for twice as long.

The theory that comes from this experiment is that when you swear, you unlock parts of your brain that trigger adrenaline, thereby allowing you to handle pain better. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that it's still just that — a theory. And it's not the only theory about why we swear, either; check out these four below. Do they explain your profanity habits?

1. Swearing Releases Anger and Frustration

According to Psych Central, one reason we swear is to release anger and frustration that may cause us duress if pent up. They say not to bottle up thoughts, feelings, and emotions, so let them out in the form of swear words!

2. Swearing Lets Other People Know What You're Feeling

When you angrily swear, other people in your vicinity get a gauge on what you're feeling and how to best handle your emotions (and whether to steer clear of you).

3. Group Solidarity

Breaking rules and adhering to a certain lexicon like "fuckface" or "asshat" can be an important part of group bonding, so oftentimes we swear for group solidarity.

4. Emphasis

Sometimes, we don't swear when we're angry or frustrated, but to add emphasis to something we're saying and make it seem more important. "I was so f*cking mad" definitely has more of a bang than "I was mad."

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