“Holy @$#%!” said Adam Hinterthuer in Scientific American. It turns out that “dropping the F-bomb” and other swear words can actually relieve physical pain. At least that’s the finding of psychologists at Britain’s Keele University, who had students hold their hands in freezing cold water and yell first profanities then “more socially acceptable words.” When cursing, students held their hands in about 40 seconds longer.
The researchers, writing in the journal NeuroReport, suggest that “spewing foul language” triggers our “fight-or-flight” response, said Paul Taylor in Canada’s Globe and Mail, releasing adrenalin and prompting other physiological pain-tolerance changes. That contradicts earlier theories, that swearing made pain worse by embellishing its severity.
The results were also a surprise to lead researcher Richard Stephens, said BBC News, who came up with the idea for the study after hitting his thumb with a hammer. The research might help explain and validate the “centuries-old practice of cursing,” but Stephens has a word of warning for the foul-mouthed—“casual swearing” lessens the pain-fighting effect.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The best places to find love — and lust — according to science
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Boyhood's refreshingly unsentimental take on motherhood
- Sex can't explain the culture war
- Why GOP reformers are bound to fail
- How a drafting error could doom Obama's carbon regulations
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- Twin Peaks: What the newly revealed 'missing pieces' change about the series
Subscribe to the Week