Humans seem to instinctively realize that screaming when in intense amounts of pain seems to help. None of us knows whether or not it actually does help, it’s just kind of a natural reaction to intense and unexpected pain.
It turns out, though, that there might be something to it – and for once, modern human instincts might not be total trash.
The researchers used pain studies to gauge the benefits of swearing and found that not only do they help, some actually help more than others. They published their findings in Frontiers in Psychology, and though they weren’t able to pinpoint why, exactly, swearing works so well to combat pain, scientists have accepted for some time that it does.
Most of the original research was done by British psychologist Richard Stephens, who immersed his subjects hands in ice water and measured how profanity helped them tolerate it for longer. Sadly, the effect was dulled for those of us who regularly swear in everyday life – it helped more for those who usually avoided saying swear words, only pulling them out for special occasions.
Stephens, along with colleague Olly Robertson, is behind this latest research as well. Instead of just letting their cold-handed participants choose their own swear words, they directed them to use specific ones to see if, for example, made-up swear words could have the same effect.
Among the 92 participants, all of whom yelled a random word, a couple of invented words, and the tried-and-true f-word, the latter improved their pain threshold by an average of 32%. The other three options did not benefit them as far as keeping their hand in the water longer at all.
The paper concludes:
“While it is not properly understood how swear words gain their power, it has been suggested that swearing is learned during childhood and that aversive classical conditioning contributes to the emotionally arousing aspects of swear word use. This suggests that how and when we learn conventional swear words is an important aspect of how they function.”
So, there you go. If you say the f-word all the time, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn there are cathartic benefits from screaming it in moments of pain (physical or emotional), but if you don’t normally employ it, the next time you stub your toe is the perfect time to give it a shot.