Cursing Away the Pain
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Cursing Away the PainIf you have any do it yourself projects this weekend, don’t call me. Because while hammering away at my house, I whacked my thumb!


You would have been impressed by my combination of swear words as I did a bizarre sort of dance.

Oh yeah… I know the one!

Hey, did you realize there’s now evidence cathartic swearing increases your tolerance for pain?

No, but I could have told you that!

Except this new study has data to show it works for most people. The study, involving college students, measured how long they could keep their arms immersed in icy water while repeating their favorite curse word versus a neutral word.

They found that when swearing, students reported feeling less pain and kept their arms in the water an average 40 seconds longer. Although both sexes reported feeling less pain when swearing, females did so to a greater extent and experienced a greater increase in their heart rate.

So, what is actually happening in our brains when we swear? Swearing seems to activate areas deep on the right side of the brain, where our primitive emotions lie. That’s where you find the fight or flight response, and swearing engages that response, which increases a person’s pain tolerance.

Swearing may also be instinctual - again, a primitive reflex. We’ve learned to control it by using our more complex cortex, including grey matter which is responsible for language and reason. Humans also have frontal lobes that can help rein in our emotions.

But as we all know, we’re not always able to control them. At this point, you may be tempted to justify cursing. Except, the more you swear, the less effective it is at easing pain.

So save those swear words for when you need them, like I did this weekend.


For more information…

Why the #$%! Do We Swear? For Pain Relief
Scientific American magazine is a well written and reliable source of information about scientific matters. They have published a report on the published work that demonstrated that swearing allows people to withstand more pain.

Pain Reduction through Swearing?
A report from Tufts University.

Swearing as a Response to Pain
The original article published in NeuroReport by R. Stephens, J. Atkins and A. Kingston.

Bleep! My Finger! Why Swearing Helps Ease Pain
Time Magazine also has a nice article about the research findings that swearing increases pain tolerance.

Phineas Gage's Story
Phineas Gage is probably the most famous person to have survived severe damage to the brain. He is also the first patient from whom we learned something about the relation between personality and the function of the front parts of the brain.

Brain Structure Corresponds to Personality
An interesting article at ScienceDaily about the brain structures that play a role in personality.

3-D Brain Anatomy
PBS offers a fascinating and informative 3-D tour of brain anatomy. Requires installation of Adobe Schockwave plugin, available at the site.