No Guff – Swearing Eases Pain

A taboo forbids a practice that is deemed unacceptable. Swearing, especially in polite company, is an example. But here’s good news for the foul-mouthed. Swearing can have surprising benefits – including a remarkable effect in reducing pain!
Dr. Emma Byrne knows a lot about letting the filth fly. She published “Swearing is Good for You”, a book presenting research that may change the way you behave when you next stub your toe.
For the well-mannered, silent fortitude is the response when something hurts. Studies show, however, swearing like a sailor can ease the pain.
One study by psychologist Richard Stephens compared the pain tolerance of people holding their hands in ice-cold water. As compared to yelling a neutral word, they endured the freezing temperature for longer and perceived less pain when they let the cuss words rip.
There’s also evidence swearing can increase productivity in the workplace by building stronger teams.
“From the factory floor to the operating room,” Byrne writes, “scientists have shown that teams who share a vulgar lexicon tend to work more effectively together, feel closer, and be more productive than those who don’t.”
Swearing is more about emotions than the use of language. This helps explain why even very young children love to repeat “bad words”, even before they can put sentences together.
Toddlers enjoy the potty-mouthed taboo of bathroom humour because they get an emotional rise, not because they want to wax eloquent about the association between “poop” and “your face”.
Women get the short end of the straw when dishing out profanities. Byrne cautions women who may wish to try their chances with a flourish of foul-mouthed obscenities. “If it backfires, it’s not just a judgment about a poor choice of tone, it’s still seen as being a reflection on your character in a way that it isn’t for male speakers,” she says.
Other researchers have studied the connection between swearing and honesty. In fact, there are many studies demonstrating that people who swear tell fewer lies and are less deceptive.
One study concluded that “people regard profanity more as a tool for the expression of their genuine emotions rather than being antisocial and harmful.”
Another study found that people who use more profanity were more honest in posts on Facebook about their personal status.
Research has shown that people who swear with flair are deemed to be more persuasive in delivering arguments.
Interestingly, it is more effective to swear in your mother tongue. This is presumably because profanity is often socially constructed. It’s best not to swear in a foreign language unless you know the culture inside out.
Language fluency does seem to have an important role in one’s ability to produce variation in profanity.
Dr. Timothy Jay, a psychology professor, conducted an experiment in which people were asked to generate a list of as many words beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet as possible in one minute. Afterwards, the same people were given a minute to list as many swear words as possible. Those who did better in thinking of words in general were also better able to list obscenities.
“People who are good at producing language are good at producing swear words,” Jay explains. “It’s not because they don’t have language — it’s because they have a whole toolbox full of words.”
Here’s something simple to try. The next time the lid on a jar of pickles presents too great a challenge, give that lid a twist and some foul language too. Studies have shown people can perform stronger physical feats when they swear out loud.
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