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Swearing - a tool that is anchored in our biology?
Hand on heart - who hasn't escaped a loud curse if you injured yourself at work, in the household or in the garden, hit your head or shin, or pinched your fingers? That may not be the fine English way, but British researchers at Keele University have shown in several studies that loud swearing can be pain relieving and stronger. The language in which swearing is used does not matter. If you believe the scientists, it is advisable to let pain out loud better than to endure quietly.
The director of studies Dr. Richard Stephens published a study in 2009 that showed that physical pain can be better tolerated if you swear loudly. This allowed subjects to hold their hands in ice-cold water for up to 44 seconds longer if they were allowed to use swear words. According to the researchers, cursing would increase the heartbeat, making them more aggressive. The small-scale study at that time only related to the British and was not very well received by experts. Stephens has now published an expanded study on the subject and presented the results at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society.
Swearing makes you stronger
Dr. Richard Stephen's featured study shows that loud swearing can make you stronger. Stephens and his team carried out two experiments. In the first phase, 29 participants completed a strength test in which they trained for a short intensive time on an exercise bike. In the second case, 52 participants passed a hand test. The results showed that the participants produced more strength when they swore in the first experiment. They also had a stronger handshake if they swore in the second test.
We still have to understand the power of swearing
The results were clear, but the researchers found no explanation for why swearing subjects produced more strength. "When we measured the heart rate and some other things that we would expect to be affected if the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for this increase in strength, we didn't see any significant changes," explains Dr. Stephens. So why curse has this effect on strength and pain tolerance remains unclear. "We still have to understand the power of swearing," Stephens said.
Swearing in Japanese
The comparison with other cultures also achieved similar results. In further tests, English-speaking subjects were asked to say the word "fuck", whereas Japanese participants were allowed to use the word "kuso" (faeces) while dipping their hand in ice-cold water. Once again, the volunteers who swore could endure the ice-cold water longer than those who didn't swear. That applied to both languages. English subjects were able to endure the pain 49 percent longer, Japanese participants held their hands in the icy water for 75 percent longer than those who did not swear.
Further investigations into swearing
A book by Emma Byrne explored how soccer fans swear on Twitter. When swearing in tweets, soccer fans rarely got angry about an opposing team or referee. In most cases, curses were used to reinforce both positive and negative emotions with words like "fucking beauty" or "fucking painful". Byrne and her colleagues found that, when swearing, the authors of the tweets assumed that their readers shared and understood their context and the feelings involved. Her book came to the conclusion that swearing actually has positive aspects. It expresses our emotions and increases well-being. And as the latest studies show, swearing can even relieve pain and create more physical strength in certain situations.
Overall, swearing is obviously a powerful and timeless tool that can actually change our pain sensations. A tool that is rooted in our biology regardless of culture. (fp)