The curse of bad language may not be that bad after all

 

Rob Hastings
Thursday 01 December 2011 11:00
Comments
Frequent swearers such as Gordon Ramsay can utter profanities without feeling an emotional response, and thus do not get the same pain-relieving effects
Frequent swearers such as Gordon Ramsay can utter profanities without feeling an emotional response, and thus do not get the same pain-relieving effects

Victims of paper cuts and stubbed toes don't need scientists to tell them about the pain-healing power of swearing, but new research suggests the more you do it, the harder pain becomes to bear.

A study by Keele University confirms that swearing can act as a form of relief. But those who have become habituated to cursing (think Gordon Ramsay, or The Thick of It's Malcolm Tucker) are less likely to feel the benefits.

Richard Stephens, of Keele's School of Psychology, said there was no "recommended daily swearing allowance" and it remains unclear whether certain swear words are more effective analgesics than others.

"We are just scratching the surface of how swearing can influence our emotions," he said.

Mr Stephens added: "If you are out somewhere and away from medical help, then swearing might give you some kind of short-term relief. Swearing exists because it's a form of emotional expression – it's there for us to use in extreme situations. But the less often you do it, the better you'll be when you need it."

His findings, appearing in the US publication The Journal of Pain, found that those who swear just a few times a day doubled how long they could withstand the "ice water challenge" – how long they could hold their hands in a container full of ice water. Those who admitted to the highest level of everyday cursing – up to a chain-swearing maximum of 60 expletives a day – did not show any benefit when undertaking the same challenge. The mechanism, the scientists say, is simple – swearing elicits an emotional response – leading to what is termed "stress-induced analgesia", also known as the "fight or flight" response, along with a surge of adrenaline.

Frequent swearers can utter profanities without feeling an emotional response – and thus do not get the same pain-relieving effects. Thus, it seems, swearing lightly in one's daily routine can help in the occasional, stressful situation.

"It would be silly to advocate swearing on the NHS," Stephens said, "but swearing seems to activate parts of the brain more associated with emotions. In the context of pain, swearing appears to serve as a simple form of emotional self-management. Whether swearing has beneficial effects in other contexts is something we would like to explore in the future."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in