Swearing or cussing eases pain

By Calvin Palmer

A DIY mishap in my household turns the air turn blue and a stream of expletives precedes the examination of what damage to my person has occurred.

It seems the natural reaction of many and one which scientists have now discovered helps lessen the sensation of pain.

A study by researchers at Keele University, near Stoke-on-Trent, England, found that volunteers were able to withstand pain for longer when they swore compared to when they used words which were not offensive.

Dr Richard Stephens, at the university’s school of psychology, believes it may explain why swearing, cussing in the United States, is still common place in languages around the world.

Stephens believes swearing may have evolved as a way of raising aggression levels and reducing the feeling of pain to allow our ancestors to flee or fight back when attacked by predators.

He said: “We think it could be part of the flight or fight response. In the volunteers who swore, we also found they had an elevated heart rate, so it could be increasing their aggression levels.

“Increased aggression has been shown to reduce people’s sensitivity to pain, so it could be swearing is helping this process.”

The study, published in NeuroReport, tested tolerance to pain in a sample of 64 students by asking them to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as they could while repeating a series of swear words of their choice.

They were then asked to carry out the task again while repeating non-offensive words they would use to describe a table. One subject, however, had to be excluded from the trial because they could not suggest any swear words.

Subjects who swore were able to keep their hands submerged in the water for an average of 40 seconds longer. When questioned about their perceived pain they also rated it as being lower.

The researchers also measured the subjects’ heart rate and found that it increased while swearing.

Dr Stephens said that the result was the opposite of what they had expected as most psychologists suggest that swearing is a symptom of “catastrophism” — where the drama-queen inside everyone takes over.

He said: “Swearing is quite an emotional form of language and it is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon.

“When my wife was in labor she felt the need to eff and blind at one point, but was very apologetic afterwards. The midwife said they were used to that kind of language on the delivery ward, so it got me thinking.

“Our research shows one potential reason why swearing has developed and why is persists.”

[Based on a report by The Daily Telegraph.]

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21 Comments

Filed under News, Science, United Kingdom

21 responses to “Swearing or cussing eases pain

  1. AndyP

    I’m delighted that the university of my home town has been spending its time researching this important area of interest. I am glad I now have academic evidence to support the volley of expletives that leave my mouth on a daily basis, and that there is some benefit to be derived from such an outburst. It leads me to think of the song by Peaches in 2000 – “F*** the pain away”. 😉

  2. Stephen Foster

    What that f*@ker AndyP said.

  3. zelda

    Andy
    So how much did your baby weigh.????Was it difficult for you?
    You goon!!!!!!!!!
    What pain can you be in??? Did your mirror break????
    Goon!

  4. I am British and reserved so I will keep my pain to myself thank you very much. I will leave the outpouring of emotions to the Americans and army of therapists. Good day to you.

    PS The Goons were a very funny comedy act in Britain many years ago so I’ll take your slight on my character as a compliment.

  5. zelda

    LOL!…Yes I am aware of the British Goons.
    Oh my…….have you ever checked at how many male Brits are dressed as women on a regular basis? Fags I believe they are called.Just because you don’t run to a therapist doesn’t change the weird habits and stoic nature of you English.
    It’s bosh.
    Your stiff upper lip is a riot.
    My favorite British joke:
    Two Englishmen standing on a street corner chatting. One says to the other,”Oh I say I hear they buried your wife the other day”.
    The other says, “yes……dead you know”.
    Sooooooo funny.
    So pip pip and a kiss on that stiff upper lip!tah tah……..I’m off to see my therapist!!!

  6. AndyP

    No, transvestites I believe they are called. In Britain fags are what you buy in a pack of 10 or 20 and smoke.

  7. Anyway 22 years of following Stoke City F.C is enough pain for anyone and well merits a good swear now and again. For Stephen and Calvin it’s even longer! 😉

  8. GlenP

    My good British friend upon immigrating to the US ten years ago, or so, said me to me when I was visiting, “Let’s throw on a jumper and go out and have a fag.” Translation: Put on a sweatshirt (it was chilly out), go outside and have a cigarette. Needless to say, prior to the translation, I was taken aback a bit. In Kuwait, a Brit put up his hand in what I thought was a peace sign but his palm was facing himself. I found out later he was not wishing me peace at all.

  9. Born Again

    People, listen to me. Andy and his Arab friend Glen P are leading you right down the path to perdition. Romans 3:13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;” 16 Ruin and misery mark their ways 17 “And the way of peace they do not know.” Call upon Jesus now before it is too late! AND Bless Sara Palin.

  10. I don’t see why GlenP’s comments have to incur your wrath Born Again. What’s he done that’s wrong in that last post other than recount a story that happened to him?

    I think the passage you quote is totally inappropriate and irrelevant. I don’t seek to shed blood, ruin and misery have not marked my way so far in life, I’ve been very fortunate I’m thankful to say, and peace is exactly what I seek. The odd swear word now and again isn’t going to do any harm, words are given meaning by different cultures and societies, and operate in different contexts. If spoke a few cuss words in French or German the chances are you wouldn’t know what they meant and so wouldn’t have a self-righteous hissy fit over it.

    If Sarah Palin is being held up as the potential saviour given her track record then we are all screwed. (I toned that done for you Born Again, I felt a much stronger word was more appropriate 😉 ) She is not the goody-goody she makes out to be, and frankly is a frighteningly ignorant woman who should never be let near real power. Thankfully the American people rejected her in the most recent election and I think the majority always will.

  11. GlenP – yes the Brit in Kuwait was giving you the old two fingered salute, an insult which is said to date back to the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years’ War. The story goes that the French claimed that they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English and Welsh longbowmen after they had won the battle at Agincourt. But the English came out victorious and showed off their two fingers, still intact. Up yours Frenchie! 😉

    And while giving history lessons I’ll add this to show Born Again how words have different contexts and change with time. I’m sure Born Again wouldn’t get upset with a word like “nice”. Nice surely is well just pleasant, kind, decent? Erm no…

    “Nice” has had an interesting history. Deriving from the Latin nescius, “ignorant” (from nescire, “not to know”), it’s meaning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries commonly was “foolish” or “wanton.” To refer to someone as a “nice person” was no compliment in Chaucer’s day.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  12. Born Again

    Andy, Glen P is a Arab Moslam fag from Kuwait. Can’t you see that? He wears girls clothes and associates with known homosexuals. He said so. This is how it happens. He entices us heterosexuals in with nice words … and then, kaboom, he is fondling you. That’s how it happens. Before you know it, you are a fag too. Sarah Palin is a true Christian. She would lock up all these sinners the first day she was elected. You want to live next door to fags, whoremongers, gamblers, dancers, and dope heads? She’d lock them up and your life would be better for it. Praise Jesus, I had to witness to you tonight. Hallelujah, he is coming.

  13. Born Again – are you taking the piss? Seriously please tell me you are some wind up merchant and don’t truly believe some of the twaddle you write on here? If you are genuine then as long as there are people like you in the world we have a lot to worry about. I don’t see how the place is going to get better following a path of bigotry, intolerance and hate.

    I don’t know GlenP personally, I have never met him, but the posts I’ve seen on here seem articulate and inoffensive. As you know from previous posts I have no problem with Muslims, I know many and they are good people, better than many so called Christians I know. I also have no problem with homosexuals either. What consenting adults do in private is their own business unless it is harmful to an non-consenting party like a child, unwilling adult or animal. To suggest that homosexuality is a life-style choice and that gay men would attempt to entice heterosexuals towards it just seems a ludicrous suggestion. They wouldn’t waste their time. I have gay friends and they know I am straight, they are in relationships too so have no interest in cheating on their partner or attempting to “swoop” on me. They would get short shrift anyway. I respect their sexuality, do not feel threatened by it, but I have no interest in participating in same sex relationships.

    Sarah Palin is a true nutcase more like. She couldn’t lock up all the people you suggest because it would be against the law. She proved herself wholly inadequate and inarticulate at the last election and I hope she has the good sense to stay away from national politics in the future. She would take America either back to the dark ages as a society or to a very costly war. I’d prefer someone with more experience than “I can see Russia from my home” conducting foreign policy. I can see the ocean from my current home but I wouldn’t claim to be a sailor. I also doubt if Jesus Christ returned, Palin would be his first choice of leader, if indeed any choice. I don’t remember Jesus preaching intolerance, only love, and he was happy to associate with the less fortunate and chastised members of society.

    I’m surprised (actually I’m not given the track record) that you think dancers are wrong. I like to dance. Nothing wrong with it, very pleasurable and keeps you fit. What about the famous hymn “Dance, dance wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance said he”? Do you condemn that? Go and watch some Seinfeld episodes and lighten up.

    Love thy neighbour – don’t think it came with small print exception clauses did it?

  14. zelda

    Well said Andy!!!!!!!!!!!! Here here!!!!!!

  15. zelda

    Dear Born Again………….
    I think you may need a third birth.
    Spewing hatred doesn’t come with the Born Again package.
    Be happy.

  16. Born Again

    Twaddle? Is that more French surrender monkey talk? I am not a merchant of piss or whatever you said. I’m talking about rock and roll! It is of the devil. We have a training video here (children of course are not allowed to see it) with videos of Ziggy Stardust, Todd Rundgren, Twisted Sister, Johnnie Rotten, Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, Liberace, Elton John, Barry Manilow and other sodomites. You think we are not aware of these modern “artists?” Ha! We study these carefully to protect our children and our ladyfolk. You know “rock and roll” really means “sex.” Yes, sex. It is not innocent music. It is of Satan. Wake up and smell the coffee Andy and Zelda!

  17. DJ AndyP special dedication for Born Again, a “modern artist” from 1977, here’s Ian Dury & the Blockheads with…

    PS More on “twaddle” as I’m keen to educate…
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/twaddle

  18. AndyP

    I noticed the National Enquirer front page as I stood in the queue at the supermarket. There are allegations that Sarah Palin is less than the squeaky clean Christian some would like to suggest.
    http://www.nationalenquirer.com/truth_why_sarah_palin_resigned_levi_johnston_tell_all/celebrity/66945
    I had to nosy inside and lo and behold the paper alleges she has had an affair with her husband’s former business partner. Tut tut. I bet her reaction to that was a little stronger than “Oh darn it!” 😉 Jolly hockey sticks! Ease the pain Sarah, have a good swear!

    She’s lucky she doesn’t live in the UK. Some of the more populist tabloids would have headlines like –
    “Fake Alaska: Palin’s steamy romps with hubby’s buddy”.

  19. Born Again

    Andy, She is a public figure with Satan constantly tugging at her. Of course, she is granted more leeway by God. She is not a regular person like you or me. Same for George W. Bush. God knows what a hard job he had and when President Bush had to make hard decisions, by golly, he made them. God understands that. You or me? Well, we are just simple people with no big decisions to make. God does not let us off so easy so you better watch your step. You are sliding dangerously close to a point of no return.

  20. AndyP

    Speak for yourself. I’m not simple, I’m quite complex! I’m reading an interesting book about Bush at the moment. The more I read the less respect I have for him and his henchmen, and believe me my respect for him wasn’t very much to start with. You should chose your heroes and influences more carefully. If ever a man was out of his depth this was he. I don’t think history will be to kind to him when future generations look back over his presidency. If indeed there are many future generations.

    There is no point of no return. As a Christian you should believe that I can always be saved even if it is repenting on my deathbed. Personally I think even as someone who is not fully convinced by the presence of an all powerful being, I live my life in a more Christian way than many of the fundamental hardliners who preach hate and intolerance rather than love and acceptance of all creation. Interesting how you allow some leeway for some and yet not for others. How convenient.

  21. zelda

    Go get em Andy……..
    but of course you know that is what this fella wants?????
    Lol…….nice going Born Again.

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