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Swearing could raise tolerance to pain, study reveals

Never mind popping pills, researchers may have found a far more straight-forward way of relieving pain … swearing.

Yelling rude words can actually raise tolerance to pain, according to a study in which volunteers underwent increasing discomfort.

Those who swore were able to stand the pain for almost twice as long as those who remained polite.

Swearing on exposure to pain has long been seen in Britain as an expected form of behaviour.

Yelling rude words can actually raise tolerance to pain, accordig to a new study in which volunteers underwent increasing discomfort

So the researchers – from the universities of Keele and Central Lancashire – used not only UK volunteers, but also people from Japan where swearing is rarely seen as a culturally acceptable response to discomfort.

They were all asked to put their non-dominant hand in ice-cold water.

One half were told to repeatedly use a swear word, either in English or Japanese, while the others used non-swear words.

The British cursers were able to keep their hands in the water for 78.8 seconds, compared with 45.7 seconds for those using the neutral word.

The Japanese swearers survived for 55.6 seconds, while the non-swearers managed only 25.4 seconds.

‘Individuals from both Japanese and British cultures were more tolerant of the painful stimulus when swearing – this was not expected,’ said the researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain.

They added: ‘Swearing could be encouraged as an intervention to help people cope with acute painful stimuli.’

One theory is that swearing stimulates the fight-or-flight response to threats, causing body changes including increased heart rate and tensed muscles – pain sensations are dulled as part of this response.

Another is that swearing increases levels of emotion which, animal studies have suggested, can in turn reduce the sensation of pain.


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