Swearing may increase an individual’s pain tolerance levels, latest UK study results suggest.
Swearing is a common response to pain, said researchers from Keele University, Staffordshire, who set out to test whether swearing has any effect on how people actually experience physical pain.
The team from the school of psychology asked 64 healthy volunteers to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible, while repeating a swear word of their choice. The volunteers were then asked to repeat the experiment, this time using a more generic word that they would use to describe a table.
The researchers found that the volunteers were able to keep their hands submerged in the ice water for a longer period of time when repeating the swear word, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance, they said.
According to the researchers, a possible explanation for the link is that swearing triggers the natural ‘fight or flight’ response. They suggest that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, ‘downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo’.
Lead study author, Richard Stephens, said swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but also a physical one: ‘Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists,’ he said in the journal NeuroReport.