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Cursing Can Be Healthy

Although many individuals will voice expletives as a common response to pain, there has been little investigation of the link between swearing and the actual experience of physical pain.

Since swearing often has an exaggerating effect, serving to embellish or overstate the severity of pain, researchers from Keele University’s School of Psychology hypothesized that swearing would actually decrease the individual’s tolerance of pain.

“Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon” says team leader, Dr Richard Stephens.

“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.”

The Ice Water Test

Enlisting the help of 64 undergraduate volunteers, the team set out to test their theory.

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.

Fight-Or-Flight Response

While it isn’t clear how or why this link exists, the team believes 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 feebleness in favor of a more pain-tolerant machismo.’

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

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Cursing Can Be Healthy

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Cursing Can Be Healthy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2009/07/14/cursing-can-be-healthy/7096.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.