Does Swearing Reduce Pain?

One too many f-bombs being thrown around? Think again, it may be doing someone some good! Research shows that swearing may actually help reduce physical pain.

No need to get a bar of soap after every round of expletives for a mouth-cleanse. Research suggests swearing might actually help reduce the amount of perceived pain during traumatic situations Swearing As a Response to Pain. Stephens, R., Atkins, J., Kingston, A. School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. NeuroReport 2009 August; 20 (12): 1056-1060..


Illustration by Elaine Liu

JUST SWEAR BY IT — THE NEED-TO-KNOW

So what gives swearing this pain-reducing effect? It's possible swearing can be distracting enough to make people forget they were even afraid of being hurt Swearing As a Response to Pain. Stephens, R., Atkins, J., Kingston, A. School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. NeuroReport 2009 August; 20 (12): 1056-1060.. Interestingly, this effect doesn't seem to come from yelling out any old thing. Another recent study found that the nervous system reacted more strongly to swear words than to euphemisms or neutral words Swearing, euphemisms, and linguistic relativity. Bowers, J.S., Pleydell-Pearce, C.W. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol. PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22341..

Previously considered simply a coping mechanism, recent research suggests a possible connection between pain reduction and swearing Swearing As a Response to Pain. Stephens, R., Atkins, J., Kingston, A. School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. NeuroReport 2009 August; 20 (12): 1056-1060.. When experiencing pain, researchers found that the people who were allowed to swear demonstrated an increase in both pain tolerance and heart rate and a decrease in perceived pain Swearing As a Response to Pain. Stephens, R., Atkins, J., Kingston, A. School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. NeuroReport 2009 August; 20 (12): 1056-1060..

So F------ What? — Your Action Plan
 

Since swearing may play a role in pain reduction, the occasional outburst in response to pain or a particularly frustrating situation could be justified. But don’t put all those expletives in one basket! Over-use may actually desensitize the body to the powerful effects of those pretty little four-letter words, lessening their pain-killing effects Swearing As a Response to Pain. Stephens, R., Atkins, J., Kingston, A. School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. NeuroReport 2009 August; 20 (12): 1056-1060.. So keep up the good work, and keep on yelling those f-bombs— but only when it's truly f'in necessary.

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