Swearing can increase pain tolerance

Researchers from Keele University’s School of Psychology have determined that swearing can have a ‘pain-lessening effect,’ according to new study published in NeuroReport, published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

While swearing is often a common response to pain, Richard Stephens and his colleagues, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston, were surprised to discover that no links had been established between swearing and the actual experience of physical pain.

Researchers enlisted 64 undergraduate volunteers for the study. Each individual was asked to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice; they were then asked to repeat the experiment, this time using a more commonplace word that they would use to describe a table. Despite their initial expectations, the researchers found that the volunteers were able to keep their hands submerged in the ice water for a longer period of time when repeating the swear word, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

While it isn’t clear how or why this link exists, the researchers believe that the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

What is clear is that swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too, which may explain why the centuries-old practise of cursing developed and still persists today.

Source: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, UK

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