In Pain, Start Swearing
Ahhhhhhhhh! That feels better! At least that’s what a new British study promises.
If you’re trying to ease the pain of an injury, says this first-of-a-kind research, start cussin’.
Dr. Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University in Staffordshire, England, accidentally smashed his little finger “really, really hard” with a hammer while building a shed in his garden awhile back. “While it was throbbing,” he recalls, “I swore a bit.” His wife later cut loose a string of expletives during the pain of childbirth—and those two incidents got him wondering about the psychology and physiology of cursing.
With two colleagues, he arranged a simple experiment. Drawing on somefive dozen undergraduate volunteers, the team had subjects submerge their hands in a bucket of ice-cold water and see how long they could endure the pain while continuously repeating a swear word of their choice. The test was then repeated, but this time the students could only utter a neutral control word, like “brown” or “square.”
Well, [bleep] me! Cursing helped, especially with female subjects!
“Swearing increased pain tolerance… and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing,” Stephens reported. The swearers were able to keep their hands submerged an average of 160 seconds, compared to only 100 seconds for the non-cursers. That’s “quite a big difference,” Stephens says.