Naturalistically Observed Swearing, Emotional Support, and Depressive Symptoms in Women Coping With Illness

Megan L. Robbins, Elizabeth S. Focella, Shelley Kasle, Ana María López, Karen L. Weihs, Matthias R. Mehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Objective: The goal of this study was to explore the intra- and interpersonal consequences of swearing. Specifically, it investigated what implications swearing has for coping with and adjustment to illness. Methods: The present project combined data from two pilot studies of 13 women with rheumatoid arthritis and 21 women with breast cancer. Participants wore the Electronically Activated Recorder, an unobtrusive observation sampling method that periodically records snippets of ambient sounds, on weekends to track spontaneous swearing in their daily interactions, and completed self-reported measures of depressive symptoms and emotional support. Results: Naturalistically observed swearing in the presence of others, but not alone, was related to decreases in reported emotional support and increases in depressive symptoms over the study period. Further, decreases in emotional support mediated the effect of swearing on disease-severity adjusted changes in depressive symptoms. Conclusion: These exploratory results are consistent with the notion that swearing can sometimes repel emotional support at the expense of psychological adjustment. This is one of the first studies to examine the role of swearing, a ubiquitous but understudied psychological phenomenon, in a medical context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)789-792
Number of pages4
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Breast cancer
  • Depression
  • Electronically Activated Recorder
  • Language
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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