When you’ve just stubbed your toe, your first instinct isn’t to smile politely; your immediate response is likely to let out a big fat WTH, WTF, and whatever other variation you can come up with. While some people might give you dirty looks for swearing loudly and in public, a study published in the Journal of Pain actually suggests that swearing—in moderation—is actually a good way to ride out the pain.
Study author Richard Stephens is no stranger to this theory. After all, he had already conducted this study before. In his new experiment, the Keele University psychology professor decided to replicate the earlier version of his test. He asked 71 students to dip their hands in freezing water for as long as they could. One group was allowed to assign themselves a swear word they were comfortable saying while the other group was simply given a control word that had absolutely nothing to do with any swear words. Afterward, both groups were asked to try the experiment again, this time using a swear word they had not used before.
Results revealed that nothing much had changed from Stephens’s first experiment. The majority of the participants (73 percent) who were allowed to swear left their hands in for longer than those who only had a control word to content themselves with. In fact, the swearers were able to leave their hands for 31 seconds longer than the others. However, it was also revealed that participants who were not used to swearing probably felt the least pain as the swear words still had quite an effect on their tolerance.
According to the study, swearing might have activated the brain's endogenous opioids. These are the natural pain-relieving chemicals normally associated with regular painkillers. And like most drugs behave, swearing does have a limit. There will come a point when swearing will no longer have any effect on you.
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