For some of us, at least, it’s standard operating procedure to launch an obscenity when we stub our toes, bump our heads, cut our fingers while chopping food, or experience some other unexpected moment of physical pain.
Setting aside the morality or propriety of our bad habits, the practical question is: does cussing a blue streak actually help to relieve the pain?
One recent study, conducted by Keele University in England, concludes that it definitely does. In fact, the study determined that spewing crude language has measurable, therapeutic, physical effects. When study participants were saying dirty words their heart rates increased, their perception of pain decreased, and they were able to endure pain much longer than was the case if they were saying neutral words. (And if you read the article linked above and see how the researchers set up the study to test their hypothesis, you’ll conclude that you should never, ever volunteer to participate in a psychological experiment at Keele University.)
The study determined that foul-mouthed participants were able to endure pain longer because there is a significant psychological component to experiencing pain, and a person’s mood and other circumstances can have a clear impact. Swearing triggers an aggressiveness response, and an aggressive mental attitude helps a person deal with pain much more effectively. (This may be why football players, for example, seem to be able to endure pain during games that many of us would find disabling.) And the study also found that the pain endurance levels were directly related to the perceived filthiness of the obscenity being used. “Sanitized” curse words, like the British “bum,” were much less effective than actual obscenities, and the most effective pain relief of all came from using the “queen mother of curses.”
The “F Word” is ubiquitous and, as I’ve noted before, has broad utility in many different settings — but who knew that it was like aspirin in its pain relief capabilities? So the next time you’ve got a bad headache or hit your thumb with a hammer, go ahead and let the f bombs fly! Chances are you’ll feel a lot better.