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.
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!