Ease that pain by swearing!

According to scientists in Britain swearing helps to reduce pain.

A study by researchers at Keele University researchers has found that volunteers who cursed at will could endure pain nearly 50% longer than those who were civil-tongued.

The scientists say swearing is a common pain response but whether swearing alters individuals' experience of pain has not previously been investigated - the say they found that yelling expletives when you hurt yourself is a sensible action as it can help reduce pain.

The study led by Dr. Richard Stephens from Keele's school of psychology, involved 64 volunteers who were asked to submerge their hand in a tub of freezing water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice.

The experiment was then repeated, this time using a more commonplace, neutral word which they might use to describe a table and the researchers found, despite their initial expectations, that the volunteers were able to keep their hands plunged in the ice water for a longer period of time when repeating the swear word.

On average, the students were able to tolerate the pain for nearly two minutes when swearing, compared with only one minute and 15 seconds when they refrained from using expletives and the researchers believe swearing helps us downplay being hurt in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo.

The team say swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing, but swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise.

The idea for the study came after Dr. Stephens swore when he accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer as he built a garden shed and the researchers say while it is not clear how or why this link exists, they believe that the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers our natural 'fight-or-flight' response.

They suggest 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 - Dr. Stephens says the findings might also explain why the ancient practice of cursing developed and still persists today.

Dr. Stephens warns however that in order to use this pain-lessening effect to their advantage people need to do less casual swearing, as swearing is emotional language but if overused, it loses its emotional attachment.

The study appears in the journal NeuroReport.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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