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Cursing During Pain Does Make You Feel Better

April 18, 2011

Stubbed your toe lately or smashed a finger? Then you very likely uttered an expletive or two and felt better. Researchers have found that letting it out, at least, for those who don’t use expletives in normal, everyday speech, can lessen sudden and unexpected pains, the Daily Mail reports.

Researchers at Keele University wanted to study if cursing in response to pain had any actual benefits. Lead researcher Dr. Richard Stephens said the results show that swearing can release pain-killing endorphins, in other words, it really does make us feel better.

The study, involving 171 students, were divided into two groups for the study ““ those who routinely keep their language socially acceptable, uttering fewer than 10 swear words a day, and those who had fewer qualms about speaking out and swear up to 40 times daily.

Students were asked to dip their hands into ice water and hold them there as long as possible. At first, while repeating a non-swear word, then again while repeating a swear word of their choosing. It was found that students were able to keep their hands submerged in the icy water for longer when repeating the swear word, thus establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

The team believes the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers the “fight or flight” response. Accelerated heart rates of the students repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic fight or flight response of “downplaying feebleness in favor of a more pain-tolerant machismo.”

Swearing in this study was found to not only trigger an emotional response, but a physical one too, which may explain why cursing developed centuries ago and why it still persists today almost without thought.

Dr. Richard Stephens, who worked on the project, tells The Telegraph, “Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon. It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain.”

“Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists.”

However, Stephens adds that to maintain the analgesic qualities of swearing folks should save it up for when it really matters, when they are in genuine pain. “I think the benefit of swearing as a response to pain lies in the field either before medical intervention arrives or for minor injuries.”

“You stub your toe, you let fly with some expletives and you move on. But as our new study shows ““ if you overdo casual everyday swearing, then it seems that you would not get the benefit of letting fly with an expletive at that moment when you injure yourself,” Stephens concluded.

The research will be presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Glasgow (4-6 May)

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