Swearing 'can lessen pain'

Swearing after injury may be good for your health, new research suggests. Scientists from Keele University found that letting forth a volley of foul language can have a "pain-lessening effect".

To test the theory, students put their hands in ice-cold water while swearing. They then did the exercise again while repeating a harmless phrase. Researchers found that volunteers were able to keep their hands in the water for longer when repeating the swear word, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

The team believes the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers the "fight or flight" response.

The accelerated heart rates of the students repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic fight or flight response of "downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo".

The research proves that swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too, which may explain why the centuries-old practice of cursing developed and why it still persists today.

Dr Richard Stephens, who worked on the project, said: "Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon.

"It taps into emotional brain centres and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain.

"Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists."