LONDON — Can’t help but shout an expletive every time you stub your toe? Don’t feel too bad, you may actually be doing yourself a favor. A new study finds that swearing when injured has a measurable effect on pain tolerance. In fact, dropping the F-bomb specifically when in pain increases tolerance by up to 33%.
The study, led by a group of language and psychology experts in the United Kingdom, explored how effective established, new, and invented swear words can be in increasing pain tolerance and pain threshold.
The research is based on a 2009 study by Dr. Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University, who found that swearing can increase pain tolerance for a short time. The new study investigated whether people could use more appropriate language when injured and get the same effect.
Stephens, along with language expert and author, Dr Emma Byrne, and acclaimed lexicographer Jonathon Green, created two invented swear words, “twizpipe” and “fouch,” for the study.
“After long discussions, we decided Twizpipe and Fouch were the best socially acceptable swear words, as they mimic real swear words quite closely,” Byrne explains in a statement. “Twizpipe mirrors the humorous element of swearing and is fun to say, whereas fouch is harsh-sounding and concise, similar to the existing four-letter swear word.”
Adds Green: “Slang has upwards of 1,000 swear words; still, there’s always room for more. Our new word should be relevant, useful, inventive and if possible witty. A swear word doesn’t spring from nowhere. It’s also got to have the appeal that can propel it out of its origins into the larger linguistic world.”
The authors recruited volunteers to test the new words alongside a traditional swear word and a control word while their hands were submerged in ice water. They found that new swear words did not raise pain tolerance as much as swearing did, despite participants rating the new words as emotion-evoking and humorous.
“From a young age we typically learn to associate them with high-stress situations and that they are forbidden. The study found that these strong sentiments cannot be mimicked by newly created swear words,” says Dr. Stephens. “Although the words we created, twizpipe or fouch, were shown to be similar to existing swear words in that they were rated as emotion evoking and humorous, they didn’t cut it when it came to pain relief. Repeating the f-word was the best option for increasing tolerance to pain.”
The real swear words were also consistently rated higher in emotional impact than the invented ones, the researchers say.
“The volunteers rated the emotional impact of the f-word as one and a half times more emotional than the new words,” says Dr. Stephens.
Researchers still aren’t sure why real swear words affect pain tolerance, but they hypothesize that the deep emotional connection with swear words could be the reason why they help people tolerate pain.
The study was funded by the pain reliever Nurofen.