Recent research has revealed that there might be a very good reason we dust off the four-lettered words when something is especially painful...
The actual study found swearing was effective pain relief for those
participants who usually do NOT swear in their day to day life. The
practice was much less effective for those who routinely use the
especially colorful metaphors.
Researchers had participants dunk their hands in ice water and timed
how long they were able to keep them submerged. Some of the
participants were encouraged to swear, while others were encouraged to
use an innocent word instead of the four lettered variety.
Those who swore were able to keep their hands submerged in the
painfully cold water substantially longer than the other participants.
Moreover, the pain reducing effects were four times more potent if the
subject did not normally swear in their daily life!
Researchers are guessing that the act of swearing activates the fight
or flight response in our bodies. Swearing is an act of aggression and
our bodies respond to it accordingly, both mentally and physically.
Just as a good fright might make you immune to pain temporarily,
so might swearing.
Most humans have a language center in the left side of their brains.
When a patient swears, the opposite side of their brain is activated -
the emotional areas of our brains.
The fact that swearing is a nearly universal language phenomenon is
interesting. As a child I always equated a person swearing as something
akin to a dog barking. It turns out I might not have been entirely
When a person swears their heart rate increases, their breathing
changes, and their bodies often tense perceptably. Blood vessels
constrict and the body takes an aggressive stance. Their voice raises,
faces scowl in a threatening way and the staccato beat of brightly
colored metaphors feels similar to the booming base of a heavy metal
band, or gunshots... or the barking of your neighbor's dog when you get
too close to the fence line.
From this study it might be surmised that using foul language as a
matter of everyday life may be doing one or more of several things to us
++ placing additional stress on our bodies thereby depleting adrenal
and other stress related hormones necessary for everything from immune
health and inflammation control to the ability to sleep at night.
++ creating an atmosphere of constant stress response that eventually
we become immune to, possibly negating the positive response we need
when real stressful events occur.
This study gives us many things to consider re: how we conduct
ourselves during stressful or painful times. It certainly goes a long
way toward explaining why the human race - as a gut reaction - is prone
to being foul-mouthed during times of stress or danger. Somehow I can't
imagine any other animal visualizing or thinking the foul things that
actually are vocalized by our "civilized" and educated society.
Sources: The Telegraph , TIME Newsfeed