Swear To Cut Your Pain

Positive Psychology News often contains thought-provoking articles and this is certainly true of the latest issue.  Emily van Sonnenberg suggests that you can reduce pain by swearing more.

As she herself remarks, her East Coast, Emily Post-abiding parents certainly laid down the law that ladies and gentlemen do not use bad words. However if you wish to cut the pain when you have suffered some trauma, then swearing can do the trick.

She found the following research-based findings had important implications:

  • Males tend to swear more than females.
  • People are able to endure a moderate to strong painful stimulus for a significantly longer period of time if they repeated a swear word rather than a non-swear word.
  • Swearing lowers pain perception, which produces a pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect.
  • Swearing increases heart rate, an indication of the fight-or-flight response built into humans as a survival mechanism.
  • Both males and females withstood physical pain for a longer period of time when swearing repeatedly, compared to not swearing at all.
  • Females in the swearing group experienced a greater reduction in perceived pain and increase in heart rate compared to males.

This all comes from a research done by a group at the University of Keele in the United Kingdom led by Richard Stephens.  This was reported in the August 2009 issue of NeuroReport.  The abstract of their work reads as follows:

Reference Abstract:
NeuroReport August 2009
Swearing as a response to pain by Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A.
Although a common pain response, whether swearing alters individuals’ experience of pain has not been investigated. This study investigated whether swearing affects cold-pressor pain tolerance (the ability to withstand immersing the hand in icy water), pain perception and heart rate. In a repeated measures design, pain outcomes were assessed in participants asked to repeat a swear word versus a neutral word. In addition, sex differences and the roles of pain catastrophising, fear of pain and trait anxiety were explored. Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.

Putting this in layman’s terms, the fight or flight response is governed by a part of the brain, the amygdala, which has been present in living beings since the time of the dinosaurs.  Apparently when a person swears it helps to increase this fight or flight response, which is also associated with a reduced perception of pain.  Since women usually swear less than men, the effect on them is greater when they do adopt this, for them, unusual behavior.

Even though others might frown on a sudden burst of cursing, if it is done for medicinal reasons, who can complain?

One thought on “Swear To Cut Your Pain”

  1. Hi There Barry Welford,
    Thanks you for your post, There are a fair amount of people who still have misguided notions about self hypnosis. After watching Hollywood movies, TV programs or even stage hypnotists, they think self hypnosis is a parlour trick, magic or even evil!
    Good Job!
    Service Dogs Are Angels Who Lift Us To Our Feet When Our Wings Have Forgotten How To Fly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *