Posted by: Prospector PJ16 FEB 2012
A randomly chosen expletive is a natural response to accidentally cutting a finger or stubbing a toe, but a good curse has been shown to serve a useful purpose in such circumstances, by increasing pain tolerance.
Researchers from Keele University found that subjects could hold their hands in ice-cold water for nearly twice as long if they swore than if they used a neutral word. Day-to-day language is associated with the cortex of the left side of the brain, but swearing appears to activate deeper structures in the right side of the brain more associated with emotions. One such structure is the amygdala, an almond-shaped group of neurons that can trigger a “fight or flight” response of tachycardia and decreased pain sensitivity (hypoalgesia). The researchers concluded that swearing is a useful part of language that helps express strong emotions or react to high pressure situations.
But a follow-up study found bad news for Gordon Ramsay and his ilk, in that people who swear more frequently showed a lower pain tolerance effect when they did swear. In fact, the higher the daily swearing frequency, the less hypoalgesia is gained from swearing. People who usually swear up to 60 times daily could only hold their hands in the water for the same length of time as when they used a neutral word. Researchers suggested that swearing loses its emotional attachment if it is over-used.
Another study investigated the implications of swearing to cope with and adjust to illness. Voice recordings from women with rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer were compared to self-reported measures of depressive symptoms and emotional support. Results showed that spontaneous swearing in daily life can undermine psychological adjustment and potentially affect emotional support in the coping process. Because swearing can repel social support, particularly among females, it can increase the risk of depression.