Can Swearing Lessen Pain?

Many people consider swearing vulgar and offensive, and argue that it has no place in our language. Swearing is indeed vulgar by nature, and is designed to produce an emotional response.

According to Professor Timothy Jay of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, swearing is an emotional language, and is in no way a sign of low intelligence, as many people perceive. He says, “curse words do things to sentences that non-curse words cannot do.”

Some fascinating studies performed at Keele University in the United Kingdom have linked swearing to alleviating pain, considering swearing is not a customary part of the daily language of the individual in question, and is only used in extreme situations.

To examine the connection between pain and swearing, a research team led by Richard Stephens, senior psychology lecturer at Keele University, performed three separate tests. In the first test, participants were asked to hold their hands in a bowl of ice water for as long as they could tolerate, five minutes maximum.

They were asked to swear as they saw fit, choosing whatever words they would normally utter. They were also asked to read a passage with blanks that they could choose to fill in with swear words or non-swear words during the ice-water test.

Results of this experiment showed that those who chose to repeat swear words throughout the challenge were able to keep their hands in the ice water for longer, rated the challenge as less painful, and had a greater increase in heart rate than those who did not swear. The researchers theorized that the swearing produced an emotional reaction that triggered the fight-or-flight response, which led to natural relief of pain.

For their second test, the researchers asked participants how often they swear in everyday life. When these participants underwent the ice-water challenge, results showed that those who commonly swear on a daily basis did not get as many analgesic benefits from swearing during the challenge as those who did not normally swear. This implicates that if swearing becomes a habit, it will not be as effective for pain relief.

The third experiment that the researchers performed sought to link swearing to making people feel more aggressive. They hypothesized that it was this heightened aggression that set off the fight-or-flight response which dulled pain.

Participants were asked to play two video games before the ice-water challenge; one was a first-person shooting game that participants said made them feel more aggressive, and the other was a neutral golf game.

Results of this third experiment showed that the shooting game impacted the ice-water challenge outcomes similarly to swearing. The participants were able to withstand the ice water for longer, and displayed elevated heart rates after the shooting game, compared to the golf game.

ankle painIn his publication, “Swearing – The Language of Life and Death,” Stephens writes, “if one considers that psychology is the study of people, and if one agrees that people are emotional beings (more Captain Kirk than Mr. Spock), then understanding swearing as the language of emotion, can improve our understanding of people.”

So, it appears that those cuss words do have a purpose. However, be careful not to overuse them, lest they lose their potency!

P.S. Despite this research and the conclusions we can draw from it, we are not suggesting you should start swearing …

-The Alternative Daily


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