AUG 20, 2017 11:15 AM PDT

Does swearing help reduce pain?


Ever wondered why some of us have the tendency to yell out a curse word when we stub our toes on the door or hammer a finger by accident? Psychologists think that part of the reason we swear is to take advantage of the taboo of a word in order to add emphasis to what we are saying. But a new study suggests that that might not be all swearing can do for us; it may even be able to reduce our perceived pain!

Researchers tested 67 undergraduate students by having them dunk their hands in a tub of cold ice water and then measured whether swearing affected how long they could keep their hands in the tub. The students tried the test twice, once while shouting all the nasty curses they could think of and once while repeating a neutral non-swear word. The results showed that when the students were allowed to swear, they were able to keep their hands in the tub for more time and they reported feeling less pain.

From this study, the researchers concluded that saying swear words can potentially tap into the emotional side of your brain and keep you from feeling anxious about experiencing pain, which makes the ice tub less threatening in the first place. According to the study, swearing is able to help people separate their fear of pain from their actual experience of pain, which might be distinct. The study also showed that heart rate increased while using curse words, which demonstrates the body's preparation for a fight-or-flight response. But is this really enough to prove that swearing like a sailor can diminish your perceived pain? Watch the video to learn more.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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