Swearing can be good for you… unless you”re like Ozzy Osbourne
Overuse of swear words “can water down their emotional effect”
Swearing can provide effective relief from pain – but not if you swear all the time, researchers have found.
A study found releasing the odd expletive helped people cope with discomfort in the short-term but the frequency of swearing played an important role.
Researchers at Keele University”s School of Psychology recruited 71 undergraduates who were asked to carry out a cold-water challenge while either repeating a swear word or a non-swear word.
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The students put their hand in room temperature water for three minutes to act as a control before plunging it into cold 5C water for as long as they could while repeating their word.
The level of perceived pain together with a change in heart rate were compared while people swore or said their non-swear word.
The group was also asked about how much they swore in daily life and this was analysed together with their level of pain tolerance.
Writing in the Journal of Pain, the authors concluded: “Swearing increased pain tolerance and heart rate compared with not swearing.
“Moreover, the higher the daily swearing frequency, the less was the benefit for pain tolerance when swearing, compared with when not swearing.
“The more often participants reported swearing in daily life, the less extra time they were able to hold their hand in ice cold water when they repeated a swear word, compared with when they repeated a non-swear word.”
Dr Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at Keele, said: “People who don”t swear very much in daily life can keep their hand in roughly double the amount of time when they swear compared to when they don”t swear.
“But the people who swear the most do not get any extra benefit.”
Dr Stephens added: “Swearing is a very emotive form of language and our findings suggest that over-use of swear words can water down their emotional effect.
“Used in moderation, swearing can be an effective and readily available short-term pain reliever if, for example, you are in a situation where there is no access to medical care or painkillers.
“However, if you”re used to swearing all the time, our research suggests you won”t get the same effect.
“Normal language is associated with the cortex (the outer layer) of the left side of the brain, but swearing seems to activate deeper parts of the brain more associated with emotions.
“We are just scratching the surface of how swearing can influence our emotions and how it can have impact in different situations.
“In the context of pain, swearing appears to serve as a simple form of emotional self-management.
“Whether swearing has beneficial effects in other contexts is something we would like to explore in the future.”