This is another news item that’s been out for awhile and I’ve been meaning to mention it because it deals with a topic near and dear to me: Swearing. For the longest time it was assumed that swearing was a maladaptive response that increased the perception of pain. Then a couple of researchers decided to put that assumption to the test and it appears that the opposite may actually be true:
They recruited 67 undergraduates, and asked to make two short lists of words – one containing five words they might use after hitting themselves on the thumb with a hammer, the other containing five words they might use to describe a table. The participants submerged one of their hands into room temperature water for three minutes, to provide a standardized starting point, then transferred it to a container of cold water and instructed to keep it submerged for as long as they could. In one condition, they were told to repeat the first swear word they had included in their list; in another, they repeated one of the words describing a table.
The researchers measured how long the participants kept their hands submerged in cold water, and asked them to rate the amount of pain they felt. Their heart rates were also recorded after they had submerged their hands in room temperature water as well as after the submersion in cold water. Contrary to their hypothesis, they found that swearing actually reduced the amount of pain felt. The participants kept their hands submerged in the cold water for longer, and also reported experiencing less pain, when they repeated a swear word than when they repeated a word describing a table. Swearing was also associated with increased heart rate.
Granted a good portion of my swearing has nothing to do with being in pain, it’s just one of the few vices I have, but it’s good to know that when I let loose with a stream of invective after stubbing my toe that it’s actually helping me out.