Swearing increases pain tolerance
http://www.examiner.com/x-1242-Science- ... 2009m7d13-
Even the tiniest nick can induce the reaction. A paper cut leads to a string of choice four-letter words, sometimes even as an unconscious response to pain. And while most find cursing distasteful, a delightful study coming out of the UK today explains that swearing can actually be helpful, especially in times of pain.
Swearing raises the pain threshold
, according to Dr Richard Stephens, whose paper was published in NeuroReport. And it is not a negligible raise of pain tolerance. The experiments showed that “volunteers who cursed at will could endure pain nearly 50% longer than civil-tongued peers.”
The test was simple in design: stick a hand into cold water and see how long you can last. It was run twice, once while swearing in any manner chosen, and then again while only being able to use words that described a table. The study found that swearing allowed a person to keep his/her hand submerged for 45 seconds longer than in a situation unaided by curse words.
An interesting facet was the fact that there appeared to be a preference amongst swear words used. “’We decided at the outset that people would give us their own swear words,’ Stephens said. ‘Swearing is quite personal and what one person finds extremely offensive, someone else may not find offensive at all.’ That being said, the usual suspects topped the list: s**t, the F word and British slang – bollocks!” [CNN] Upon reflection, I can corroborate that finding—I’d use the second word in that list every time.
Just what about a potty mouth allows one to tolerate pain to a greater degree is unknown, but the scientists think it has something to do with machismo (the act of being manly). Stephens’ team “suggest[s] that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic fight-or-flight response of downplaying a weakness or threat in order to deal with it.” [BBC] In other words, swearing may increase the ‘fight’ aspect of fight-or-flight, making a person able to literally fight the pain for longer.
Two perspectives have arisen out of the study. The first is the suggestion that swearing shouldn’t always be viewed as a distasteful, useless characteristic. Clinical psychologist Paula Bloom stated, “This removes the morality piece about language. We’re so quick to judge and sometimes our judgment interferes with science. We’re walking around thinking [swearing] is a bad thing…it’s not really.” Stephens agrees. “Swearing has gotten very bad publicity– it’s a negatively construed thing. But the positive aspect of it is swearing self-regulates our emotions. It can have a beneficial effect.” [CNN]
However, Stephens’ warns about another aspect: overuse. "If [a person wants] to use this pain-lessening effect to their advantage they need to do less casual swearing. Swearing is emotional language but if you overuse it, it loses its emotional attachment." [BBC]