Swearing reduces pain

Even the most delicate among you will let an expletive slip when you hurt yourself. Many is the “#^*@$#^!” that has rung through a home renovation project as a hammer comes into unwelcome contact with an ill-placed thumb. Given that cursing as a reaction to pain is so universal you might expect that it actually serves some purpose; new research suggests you would be right.

In the new study subjects aged between eighteen and 46 completed questionnaires that established how frequently they would let loose with an expletive in the normal run of things. There are people who are high frequency swearers and people who swear only under duress. You know the kind of thing, an otherwise innocuous little sentence like, “That was a nice cup of coffee” in the hands of a high frequency swearer becomes, “Bleep! That bleeping coffee went down like bleeping bleep in a bleep.” In the between the two extremes of course, lie degrees of usage of curse words.

Having established where the subjects fell in the frequency of cursing spectrum the researchers then set out to see what their pain tolerance was like. The task to do this was to get participants to keep their hands in painfully icy cold water for as long as they could.

People who were not allowed to swear were not able to keep their hands in the water for as long as the people who were allowed to swear.

However, the higher the frequency of swearing in every day life, the less did swearing help to reduce pain and therefore help the subjects keep their hands in the freezing water. Subjects who rarely curse in every day life has four times the pain relief from cursing compared to people who curse frequently.

The reason behind this seems to be that swearing produces a “fight or flight” response, meaning that it causes the release of hormones involved in the stress response. These hormones act via the hypothalamus in the brain and initiate nerve activity that prepares your body to either fight or run away. In physiological terms this means that blood moves away from the digestive tract to the muscles of the legs and arms, awareness intensifies, sight sharpens, impulses quicken, and the perception of pain diminishes.

By setting up a mini-stress state the act of cursing reduces your sensation of pain but the more you swear, the less of a stress it signifies to your body. In a sense, you become immune to the effects of your own cursing.

So if you want to get the full pain-relieving effects of swearing just be a little bleeping careful how you bleeping use your language in bleeping future!

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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