13 July 2009

When swearing is not only big and clever, but also downright useful

That muttered curse word (or in my case the several curse words, usually uttered at the top of my voice) that reflexively comes out when you stub your toe could actually make it easier to bear the throbbing pain, according to Live Science

While swearing is a common response to pain, no previous research had connected the uttering of an expletive to the actual physical experience. "Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon," said Richard Stephens of Keele. "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."

Stephens and fellow researchers John Atkins and Andrew Kingston sought to test how swearing would affect an individual's pain tolerance Because swearing can seem to overstate the severity of pain, the team thought that swearing would lessen a person's tolerance. Actually, the opposite seemed to be true.

The researchers had 64 volunteers submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. The experiment was then repeated with the volunteer repeating a more common word that they would use to describe a table. Contrary to what the researcher expected, the volunteers kept their hands submerged longer while repeating the swear word.

The researchers think that the increase in pain tolerance occurs because swearing triggers the body's natural “fight or flight” response. "Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists," Stephens said.

The results of the study are detailed in the Aug. 5 issue of the journal NeuroReport.

Well there you have it.....Anything that puts swearing in a positive light gets my vote!


Ardent said...

I wonder if the volunteers would keep their hands submerged longer depending on the caliber of the obscenity. I wonder if a person shouting ‘F#@k’ would have and even greater tolerance to pain, than someone shouting plain ‘Shit’.
It would be an interesting experiment to watch.:)

jams o donnell said...

Now that's something that needs to be investigated Ardent!

Claude said...

I suppose the experiment was conducted in English. I could have told them that French swearing, in moments of pain, diminishes the suffering immensely. Specially when people around you don't have a clue about the impropriety of what you're saying.:)

jams o donnell said...

Haha Claudia! There's thought for further research

Claude said...

Jams, you're so up-to-date! They're doing a call-up today on 'Talk Back Toronto' trying to find out if people feel less hurt if swearing when in pain. So far, 75% Torontorians get a great relief from using forbidden words in different languages. Wow! I live at the right place...:)

jmb said...

Cheap remedy too, unless you have to put money in a jar every time you do it. :)

jams o donnell said...

That's wonderful Claudia!

For me it would be very expensive to run a swear box. Still I could save a fortune!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Now that experiment should be expanded. They have to check whether people's general well-being will improved while swearing, without introducing the element of pain.

jams o donnell said...

I know my well being is improved Snoopy!