Are you a walking catalog of swear words? Is cursing second nature to you? Is a generous application of expletives your way of dealing with life’s problems? Do you resort to profanity as a tool when all else fails? Are expletives your natural knee-jerk reaction to a day gone horribly wrong? Did you swear out loud when you accidentally hit your toenail? If the words blurted out when we swear are so offensive, why is it such a natural response to pain or discomfort of any kind?
Science says this is perhaps because swearing helps alleviate your pain. Yes, you heard it right. A study was conducted to examine how the act of swearing is used as a response to pain. Here’s what they found out: Swearing increased pain tolerance. It also increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. Turns out, we’d rather burst into a flurry of expletives to alleviate the instant suffering than let it suffocate us.
The study discusses further, “This experiment tested the hypothesis that swearing, an assumed maladaptive pain response, would decrease pain tolerance and increase pain perception compared with not swearing. In fact, the opposite occurred – people withstood a moderately to strongly painful stimulus for significantly longer if they repeated a swear word rather than a non-swear word. Swearing also lowered pain perception and was accompanied by increased heart rate. We interpret these data as indicating that swearing, rather than being a maladaptive pain response actually produces a hypoalgesic (pain lessening) effect.”
This article on Scientific American discusses the science behind it, and talks about how it is because of the emotions involved in cursing that one is able to vent out the agony. If we come to think of it, swearing as a reflex is nothing more than an angry vocalization of the pain inflicted by an accident, circumstances or trauma. The right side of the brain, which is known to us as in-charge of intuition and emotions, is where these expletives emerge from, which reiterates that swearing is a resultant action of an emotional trigger.
So the next time you hit that toenail hard across the furniture, swear hard and swear fast, because science has got your back!