The next time you smash your finger or stub your toe, try uttering a few expletives until the throbbing pain becomes less intense. Researchers from the U.K.’s Keele University have found that using a few “colorful metaphors” when genuine pain strikes can go a long way in easing your agony, especially if you don’t do it on a regular basis. In fact, for those who reserve swearing for only the most extreme circumstances, the act was found to be four times more effective than for those who regularly let profanity rip.
Lead researcher and Keele University psychologist Dr. Richard Stephens said the results of the analysis show that swearing can release pain-killing endorphins. He explained that “Swearing provokes an emotional response in the face of stress akin to the flight and fight response” in an individual, which is how the body reacts to a perceived threat or danger. He also added, “I think the benefit of swearing as a response to pain lies in the field either before medical intervention arrives or for minor injuries.”
The study involved 71 adults who were divided into two groups. One group was made up of those who use less than ten swear words on a daily basis, while the other included those who let loose up to forty daily. All participants were asked to specify five words they would be likely to use after smashing their thumb with a hammer, and the the first word on their list would be used in the analysis. In addition, five words that describe a table were solicited from each participant for selective use in the experiment.
The participants were then asked to place their hands into 41-degree water and keep them there for as long as they could possibly stand under two different circumstances. First, the subjects held their hands into the ice-cold water while repeating a non-swear word, and then the second time, they were asked to repeat a swear word while performing the highly uncomfortable task. Before and after plunging their hands into the icy water, the heart rate of each participant was recorded. In addition, when the subjects could no longer stand the cold temperature, they were asked to rate their degree of pain.
Findings showed that among those who are prone to swear less were able to withstand the icy water for up to 45 seconds longer while swearing than while not swearing. However, among those who swear more regularly, staying power was increased by only 10 seconds longer while swearing versus not swearing. Overall, findings indicated that swearing increased the heart rate as well as the tolerance for pain among all the study participants.
Regarding the results of the study, Stephens said, “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.”
In conclusion, the study authors reported, “Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing.” However, an interesting note is that it appears that the women in the study gained the most benefit from use of the painkilling tool, as the authors noted that swearing “did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise.” Therefore, men who wish to achieve painkilling satisfaction need to refrain from overuse of profanity.
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