Occasional Profanity May Relieve Pain?

Study Finds Infrequent Swearing Leads to Longer Pain Tolerance

Holding a burning plate of turkey and don’t want to drop it? Let the obscenities fly and you might be able to take more time to make it to the counter, feast intact. Just don’t make it a habit.

A study done by U.K. psychologist Richard Stevens showed that college students who were allowed to curse after sticking their hands in cold water were able to leave their hands in longer than people who could not curse. However, in a later study, the more participants reported regularly cursing, the less pain they were able to tolerate, Time magazine reported Wednesday.

The studies were performed on 71 college students who were asked to submerge their hands in freezing water for as long as they could bear it. One group was asked to repeat any curse word they chose while their hands were in the water. The other group was asked to repeat a control word they might use to describe a table. Then, both groups repeated the task using the word they hadn't previously tried. The most recent study confirmed the results of the earlier study – those who cursed were able to keep their hands in the freezing cold water longer than those who could not curse.

Apparently, cursing may help relieve pain by activating the brain's endogenous opioids, the natural pain-relieving chemicals whose effects on the brain are similar to pain drugs like morphine and oxycodone, the Time report said. Repeated swearing may increase people's tolerance to their effects, and cause them to need higher "doses" of cursing to achieve the same effect, much in the way opiate drugs do. Basically, you can become physically dependent on cursing.

The authors said that greater tendency to manage anger via direct verbal or physical expression (trait anger-out) is associated with increased acute and chronic pain responsiveness. Other studies have shown that these “anger-out” people tend to have a higher threshold for triggering endogenous opioid action in the brain, suggesting that yes, you can become addicted to cursing.

So while everyone has let a bleeped word slip once in a while, especially to endure pain, make it a habit to control your tongue.

Grandma will thank you.