Study finds that cursing can help ease the pain
If you ever have stubbed your pinky toe or your funny bone and yelled out profanities in response – you are not alone.
According to a UK study, swearing actually does a lot to reduce pain levels. Psychologists at the Keele University proved that using conventional swear words can increase your pain tolerance by 33% compared to using alternative language.
Dr Richard Stephens, senior lecturer in psychology and PhD researcher Olly Robertson carried out the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
They wanted to identify whether repeating fake swear words “twizpipe” and “fouch” could be as effective as uttering traditional swear words in helping to tolerate pain. Stephens wondered “why swearing, a supposedly maladaptive response to pain, is such a common pain response”.
He says pain used to be thought of as a purely biological phenomenon, but actually pain is very much psychological.
“The same level of injury will hurt more or less in different circumstances,” Stephens says. The research, funded by Nurofen, involved measuring the pain threshold of 92 participants who held their hands in an ice bath by timing how long it took them to begin to feel pain.
Each participant took the challenge four times, repeating one of the test words during each trial.
The study found that while saying “twizpipe” and “fouch” brought on emotional and humorous responses, they had little impact when it came to helping cope with pain. But traditional swear words such as “arrgh, no, f*&k, bugger, sh*t” produced stress-induced analgesia and increased pain tolerance by 33%.
“This is the first study to assess whether novel ‘swear’ words have any pain-relieving e ects. They didn’t, even though they were rated as being funny and emotion arousing. This new finding confirms that it’s not the surface properties of swear words, such as how they sound, that underlie the beneficial effects of swearing, but something much deeper, probably linked back to childhood as we learn swear words growing up,” says Stephens.
He adds that volunteers could keep their hands in water 50% longer when they were cursing.
“While they were swearing, the volunteers’ heart rates went up and their perception of pain went down. In other words, the volunteers experienced less pain while swearing.