July 12, 2009

BULLSCAT:

Why the #$%! Do We Swear? For Pain Relief: Dropping the F-bomb or other expletives may not only be an expression of agony, but also a means to alleviate it (Frederik Joelving, 7/12/09, Scientific American)

The study, published today in the journal NeuroReport, measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water. During the chilly exercise, they could repeat an expletive of their choice or chant a neutral word. When swearing, the 67 student volunteers reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer.

Although cursing is notoriously decried in the public debate, researchers are now beginning to question the idea that the phenomenon is all bad. "Swearing is such a common response to pain that there has to be an underlying reason why we do it," says psychologist Richard Stephens of Keele University in England, who led the study. And indeed, the findings point to one possible benefit: "I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear," he adds.

How swearing achieves its physical effects is unclear, but the researchers speculate that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. [...]

There is a catch, though: The more we swear, the less emotionally potent the words become, Stephens cautions. And without emotion, all that is left of a swearword is the word itself, unlikely to soothe anyone's pain.


In other words, like the pain, it's all in your head.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 12, 2009 8:03 AM
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