Why the #$%& Do We Curse When We Feel Pain!?

We’ve all experienced the horrible pain of stubbing a toe, jamming a finger, hitting a funny bone, etc. And I’m sure we all said the same thing when we experienced these things… “WHAT THE #$%&”!!!!! But do we ever wonder why we curse when we feel pain? It seems to ease the pain a little, doesn’t it? That must just be in our heads though, right? … WRONG!

A study done by Richard Stephens at Keele University in England involved 67 students dunking their hands in freezing cold water. Each student dunked their hands twice, once during which they could only call out general words and the other during which they could curse the entire time. Results found that the students felt less pain and were able to keep their hands in the water for an average of 40 seconds longer when cursing.

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How is this so, do you ask? Well, since cursing is such a common reaction to pain, researchers assume there must be some underlying cause of it. There is still much research being done, but it is thought that cursing is somehow linked to emotion. Cursing seems to activate the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotions, and that often leads to an adrenaline rush that increases heart rate and lessens sensitivity to pain. Researchers involved in the study at Keele University did, in fact, make note that the heart rate of the students increased when they cursed. Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University compares the reaction in the brain of a person cursing and a cat being sat on. He says the two display the same defensive reflex against the thing that attacked them (in this case the attacker may be a door, a hammer, a kitchen knife, etc.).

If you don’t know what an adrenaline rush is, watch this video to find out.

Stephens warns, though, that if you overuse curse words, the pain-relieving effect of them will stop to work because you will build up a tolerance. According to this article, this is because cursing activates the brain’s natural pain-relieving chemicals, just as pain-relieving drugs do. So, just like people build up a tolerance to those drugs, the same happens with cursing.

So, as Stephens suggests, curse if you get hurt. It’ll make the pain just a little more bearable!

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Why Swearing Sparingly Can Help Kill Pain

6 thoughts on “Why the #$%& Do We Curse When We Feel Pain!?

  1. Dante Labricciosa

    Well, that is daily good news to me, as for one I am accident prone and cannot watch my language. I mean this is really interesting, how activating the amygdala seems to effect our diction. But at what point does pain lead to shock? I know pain seems to activate our nerves that directly effect our word choice, but you should include in your studies how when pain reaches a certain level, adrenaline can result in shock where we could not feel the pain at the moment. I went into shock once, when I broke my collarbone, but I did not curse when it happened, but find me tripping over something or hitting my foot on something and certainly I will curse. In this webpage, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/shock, it explains how shock can be a response to pain and other problems within the body. Maybe cursing is related to shock, as a smaller response? This study definitely could be looked into further, as one could say this is not a focus of many granted experiments. Though I must say, cursing in my opinion does seem to take the edge off.

  2. Samantha Liebensohn

    This post was humorously entertaining. I never would have known that cursing can actually have positive benefits to one’s life, let alone help relieve pain. When stubbing a toe or getting a small paper cut a swear word is usually the first thing out of my mouth (i’m not proud of this). My mom always told me it was a really bad habit but now I can retaliate that it actually helps with my pain. Here’s a link going into more detail of the benefits of swearing http://www.medicaldaily.com/benefits-swearing-researchers-point-out-cursing-can-actually-reduce-pain-282784

    1. Olivia Helen DeArment

      I, as I’m sure most would admit it, am very prone to letting out a curse word when something stuns me or I’m hit with unanticipated pain. Whether it is stubbing my toe or hitting my funny bone, it seems to be an immediate response. However I have never thought of this being linked to adrenaline and that thought provoked some interest to me. I do think it depends on the amount of pain or what the particular situation is to determine if cursing actually induces this or if it somehow is a copping mechanism for the pain. For little stuff like stubbing your toe, it kills for a few seconds as that curse words slips right out but going away not too long after, however when I tore my ACL, I did not curse because I was so shocked, I did not resort to curse words out of pain/frustration, but instead a scream connected with my more intense and longer term pain. That being said, cursing and pain most likely needs to be studied more closely, but I do think the outcome of this topic surely depends on the situation.

  3. Hannah Marni Stern

    Wow! This is a connection that I have never made before, but the science makes so much sense. Your point about the adrenaline that comes with cursing, and how that reaction decreases with frequency was so interesting. In terms of the frequency of cursing, this article (http://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/observer/2012/may-june-12/the-science-of-swearing.html) discusses that psychological scientists have found that swearing has increased in prominency due to technological advances, such as exposure to TV and social media. Therefore, as it becomes more mainstream to curse, this theory might be altered!

  4. Connor Edward Opalisky

    This post is extremely interesting. I never once thought that my bad habit for cursing as a reaction to pain actually had a positive effect. I did more research on what other effects swearing can have on a persons body and it turns out it can also relieve stress, according to an article written in Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2011/04/21/use-foul-language-to-relieve-stress-and-pain/#560560617268) The article references the same cold water study mentioned in the article, but it also mentioned that participants experienced a decrease in stress. The swear words lowered their heart rate which meant they could stay calm longer. This makes it apparent that yelling swear words doesn’t only improve pain tolerance but also reduces stress. Next time I have a big exam coming up, I might just scream a few.

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