Health Care

Saying the F-word might help take the pain away, research affirms

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Dropping F-bombs can possibly help increase a person’s pain threshold, research has shown — and, according to a follow-up pain management experiment, using made-up swear words doesn’t quite garner the same results.

The original 2009 experiment suggested that swearing under the right circumstances can increase a person’s pain threshold. To test the theory, Richard Stevens, a British psychologist from Keele University, conducted an experiment in which people immersed their hand in ice-cold water.

The act of cursing enabled them to withstand more pain, the findings suggested. “The simple act of swearing during the experiment enabled participants to perceive decreased pain and tolerate increased pain,” Science Alert had reported.

Further research found that people who swear often had a lesser increase in pain tolerance than those who don’t. In another test, whose findings were published in April, Stephens and a colleague had 92 participants utter made-up swear words to see if random words yielded any benefits.

While putting their hand in ice water, the testing subjects repeated one of the four words every three seconds — the F-word, a neutral word and two made-up swear words: “fouch” and “twizpipe,” according to the researchers.

The F-word was linked to a 32 percent increase in pain threshold and a 33 percent increase in pain tolerance, according to the publication. The made-up words had no beneficial impact.

“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,” the researchers write in their paper, which was published last month.


“This suggests that how and when we learn conventional swear words is an important aspect of how they function,” the paper reads.

Other studies have shown that swearing in various languages has no bearing on people’s pain perceptions.

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