The Benefits of a Mother-F#@&!$% Expletive

One bitchin’ study in psychology tested the hypothesis that swearing reduces our perception of pain.

Have you ever wondered why cursing sometimes seems like a natural response? Even with mom threatening to wash your mouth out with soap, stubbing your toe can be enough to start cursing like a sailor… that curses a whole bunch. What’s the f#@&!$% deal?!?!

To find out, 67 volunteers were recruited for an experiment to see how long they could keep their hand immersed in ice water, while repeating either a neutral word or a bad word of their choice. [What would you choose? Post it below! Ok, don’t.]

As a result, participants withstood the cold for about 40 seconds longer in the swearing condition compared to the neutral condition, suggesting that swearing increases our tolerance for pain. Hell yeah!

According to scientists, when we scream obscenities in response to bodily harm, we tap deep into our brain’s emotional centers, including critical structures like the amygdala, in order to beef up the sympathetic nervous system. This network boosts heart rate and other survival mechanisms, which can come in handy when, let’s say, you cut open a bagel and your finger.

Before you decide to get creative and add a curse word to every sentence as a means of protection, there is a catch. A follow up study was published in the Journal of Pain to see what happens if people curse too much.
If I were the editor of this journal…
I’d end every revise-and-resubmit notice with, “No pain, no gain…”

In the follow up study, in which the procedure was much the same, swearing had a smaller effect for people who string together the wrong four letters on a regular basis, suggesting we can become habituated to the benefit of an expletive. Damn it! Wait, crap. Ah, damn it! Wait. Ahhh who gives a shit?

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About the Author

has a Ph.D. in Psychology and enjoys writing in the third person.

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