If you’ve long felt guilty for peppering your vocabulary with four-letter words, one expert’s findings could inspire you to bellow expletives with even greater frequency.
“Swearing is not necessarily a negative thing,” Dr. Richard Stephens told the Toronto Star. “It can be a linguistic tool when dealing with frustrating events.”
Stephens, a researcher and senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University in the United Kingdom, has been studying the effects of swearing for a number of years and said a few choice words can actually trigger a flight or fight response, which then releases endorphins that diminish pain.
He presented the results of his latest study this month at the 2014 British Psychological Society annual conference in Birmingham, England, in which he questioned whether one’s emotions change swearing fluency.
More from the Star:
Sixty participants played either a sedate golf video game or a violent shooting one. Then participants were told to write down as many swear words as they could recall in a limited amount of time.
Participants shooting video game characters recalled significantly more “bad words” than those playing a leisurely round of video golf.
These findings suggest that when emotionally aroused, people become more fluent cursers.
Stephens said some have criticized his work, but the majority of people are curious about his findings.
“Some people think it’s frivolous,” he told the Star. “But it’s tapping into emotion, which helps us better understand people. Besides, everybody swears.”
[sharequote align=”center”]”Everybody swears.”[/sharequote]
Stephens’ initial foray into the relationship between swearing to pain was published in the journal NeuroReport in 2009. One finding noted in the abstract: “Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise.”
More from the Star:
In that study, 67 participants submerged their hands in ice water for as long as possible. They were then asked to repeat either a swear word or a word that wouldn’t make their grandmothers cringe.
The people who swore — the F-word and s**t were apparently top choices — were able to tolerate the pain of the ice water significantly longer than those only permitted to say neutral words.
The following video takes a wide-ranging look at swear words, including their history, and touches on the idea of swearing as a response to pain (at about the 6:30 mark):