Swearing Brings Pain Relief

ouch!I may be an atheist with a heart of gold, but I have a tendency to swear a lot. I tone it down for family events and around kids, but otherwise I love to swear. It enhances what I'm saying and it feels good. Plus, why not? They are simply words. I think it's silly that some words are taboo. Letters strung together and given a special dirty meaning, verbalized or written, are somehow wrong and bad? That's so ridiculous to me, such a stupid effect of religion.

Well, now I have a new reason to swear profusely if I get hurt. A study was released last week in the journal NeuroReport about Swearing Actually Increasing Pain Tolerance. Over 60 volunteers put their hands in ice cold water and kept it there as long as they could. They were to say either a neutral word or a swear word of their choice. When saying the swear word, they endured an average of 40 more seconds of the ice water and reported less pain.

amygdalaStill no one is exactly sure how swearing has such physical effects on the body, but it's speculated that the brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. But earlier studies have shown that regular language relies on the outer bit on the left hemisphere of the brain, while swearing relies on evolutionarily ancient structures buried deep inside the right half.

Also noteworthy was that the heart rate of the volunteers rose when they swore, which the researchers say suggests that the amygdala was activated. The amygdala is a group of neurons in the brain that can trigger a fight or flight response in which our heart rate climbs and we become less sensitive to pain.

A psychologist who has studied profanities for the past 35 years says about swearing, "It allows us to vent or express anger, joy, surprise, happiness. It's like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of things with that, it's built into you."

Just be careful to not go to the extreme and hotline into your brain's emotional system in a situation like road rage, where you escalate to physical violence. (of course)

There's one catch though. The more we swear, the less emotionally potent the words become. And without emotion, all that's left is the swear word itself, which is unlikely to soothe your pain.


  1. I have seen some violent animal images, but out of all the ones I have seen of cats, this one is fearless for going after that big dog!

  2. Yeah, and it looks in that picture like the cat is definitely winning!

  3. I love the brain! After reading this, it really seems like it should be an "ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" *lightbulb goes on* moment. How many times have we all gotten hurt at some point and have sworn automatically? It really does make the pain less intense. As a psychology student who also loves neuroscience, this article tickles my geek bone.

  4. A-ha - That explains it! Yes, of course, it's all so simple.

  5. That's F*ck*ng right! Great post, makes sense.

    Neece, I just make a post about religious double standards. If you could check it out. I would love to hear your input.