Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Swearing For Pain Relief? HAWMC #19

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 wrong...

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 including:

++ 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

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