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Cursing as Pain Management

Have a foul mouth? It might actually benefit you when it comes to pain management. A study from Keele University in England took a look at how an outburst of swearing can help people deal with pain.

Sixty-seven college students took part in the initial study. First, they were asked for their five favorite curses — things they might say after accidentally whacking a thumb with a hammer. I know what I’d say in that situation, and it’s not pretty!

The students were then asked to hold one hand in icy water for as long as they could bear it. The students who rattled off their top five curses were able to stand the painfully cold water longer than those who kept quiet — an average 155 seconds, compared to an average 115 seconds for those who suffered in silence.

Study participants reported feeling less pain in the cold water while cursing. They also experienced less anxiety and less fear of the pain itself! This led researchers to think that cursing is more than just a distraction or emotional release.

Distraction from the pain is a great pain management technique — but it seems that cursing did more than that. During the study, the students who swore a blue streak also had increased heart rates (it was noticed in both genders, but women’s heart rates increased more than men’s). Researchers feel that this indicates an aggressive response — that the cursing activates a sort of fight-or-flight reaction.

Other studies have looked at the emotional release aspect of cursing, but not at the physical side of things. Letting a few inappropriate words slip out can help vent anger, fear, surprise, or frustration.

Now we’re beginning to see evidence that swearing has a physical impact on the body, too! Next time I hit my thumb with a hammer, I won’t feel quite so bad if I say a naughty word.