UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020
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We have all done it. We stub our toe or bump our head, and the words just come bursting out. You know the ones. The slimy, icky, four-letter ones that are forbidden in polite company. The ones our fathers muttered under their breath when tinkering in the garage and the ones our mothers washed out of our mouths with soap. Some people call them curse words; others call them bad words and now scientists are calling them pain relieving words.
According to a new health study, swearing can help lessen the feeling of pain. It turns out that having a vocabulary of dirty words saved up is a good thing. They help you release stress and lessen the feeling when a painful incident takes you by surprise.
The study took place at Keele’s School of Psychology and was published in the American Journal of Pain. The study involved an experiment requiring students to put their hand in a bucket of freezing cold water. During this process, they were allowed to swear freely until they couldn’t stand it anymore. They were then asked a second time to stick their hand in the icy water but were instructed to refrain from saying anything offensive, replacing swear words with harmless ones. This seemingly simple test revealed that students were able to keep their hand in the chilly water longer when allowed to yell obscenities. Their pain tolerance was increased by swearing.
Researchers found the link between pain tolerance and cursing was connected to the signaling of the fight or flight response. When in survival mode our hearts naturally begin to race, and our body has a surge of adrenaline. The adrenaline reduces pain and causes you to concentrate on the task at hand rather than whatever is ailing you. Saying a four-letter word has a similar effect. Because the words are forbidden we get a rush from saying them, and it is this rush that increases our threshold for pain.
But what if you never use this type of offensive language? Well, the answer may surprise you. In this case, when those who normally refrain utter curse words in response to pain, a numbing effect was four times more intense. The less often you typically use the words, the more your pain tolerance increases. The opposite is true for those with the mouth of a sailor. Apparently, if you are a frequent user of bad words, you get used to them, and they no longer have the same adrenaline rush nor pain relieving value that they once did.
So feel free to use profanity but use it wisely and use it sparingly. There is a time, and a place for everything and apparently stubbing your toe on a curb is the perfect time and place. The next time you do so, let that bad word ring freely. It will make you feel so much better. You’ll swear by it.