Psychology

Swearing Can Literally Dull The Pain

You're walking barefoot through your kitchen, thinking about the TV show you just watched, when you stub your toe. The pain is... well, there are no words for how bad the pain is, except that you scream out an expletive that let's just say is not suitable for Curiosity. The good news: Your potty mouth has purpose. According to research, swearing can actually relieve pain.

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What The...?

A 2009 study published in NeuroReport demonstrated that swearing could help people withstand pain. When asked to put their hands in a tub of icewater, subjects could keep their hands submerged for longer when they repeated a swear word of their choice as opposed to a neutral word. "When swearing, the 67 student volunteers reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer," according to Scientific American. Researchers theorize that this effect is because swearing prompts the body's fight-or-flight response. ""I suspect that swearing taps into a defensive reflex in which an animal that is suddenly injured or confined erupts in a furious struggle, accompanied by an angry vocalization, to startle and intimidate an attacker," Psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, who has written extensively about swearing, told the magazine.

But Still Watch Your Language... Sometimes

Before you start cursing at everyone, all the time, take note: the pain-relieving effects of cursing lessen the more you use bad language. "Swearing is emotional language but if you overuse it, it loses its emotional attachment," Richard Stephens, the lead on the study, told BBC. Which is to say, save the S-word, or the F-bomb, for when you really, really need it.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Every language in the world has swear words. 00:31

  2. Swearing seems to activate the brain's endogenous opioid center, resulting in a reduction of pain. 01:39

  3. Swearing can encourage social bonding. 02:18

Why Are Bad Words Bad?

Swear A Lot? It Might Say Something About You

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