It is official! Cursing and giving the finger can be good for you

If you want to quickly and easily learn how many curse words someone knows, try standing on his/her foot. Being in pain can do interesting things to our language, but can that volley of obscenities actually be useful? New research suggests that both rude words and gestures can have a pain-reducing effect.

The study included 111 students at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, 61 percent of whom identified as female, with an average age of 19. Pain was inflicted using a well-known experimental method called the cold pressor task, which involves immersing a person’s hand in ice water for as long as they can tolerate it.

The study was intended to measure the effect of language and gestures, both ‘neutral’ and ‘taboo’, on pain perception. In the language section of the study, participants were asked to say “fuck” or “flat” over and over while their hand was submerged in the cold water. In the signing arm, they were told to raise and lower their middle finger (taboo) or index finger (neutral).

Participants were told to tell the experimenter as soon as they felt pain so that the time could be recorded. After the trial, they completed a pain rating scale and a word completion task designed to measure feelings of aggression.

Based on previous research, the scientists hypothesized that flipping the bird or dropping the F-bomb every second would have a pain-relieving effect. And that turned out to be the case.

“We felt that it was a taboo act […] enabled participants to withstand pain during a cold pressor task significantly longer than during a neutral action,” the authors write in their paper.

Even more surprising was that there was no significant difference between the gesture and the language. Previous studies have shown that the use of swear words is linked to pain tolerance, and some have even suggested this as a possible reason for the flood of profanity that often comes from labor and delivery suites. But scientists are less sure about why an obscene gesture works just as well.

One theory the authors propose is that the process of making the middle finger gesture activates the same neural pathways as saying the word “fuck.” It’s also possible that it evokes similar feelings and emotions without activating the word itself, but more research is needed to disentangle this.

The authors found no evidence from their study that the analgesic effect of swearing had anything to do with aggression, but point out that this could be an error in the design of the study: “we cannot exclude the possibility that there is aggression; perhaps our word stem completion and heart rate measurements were not sensitive enough to detect changes in aggression.

But there could have been another unintended benefit to including the word completion task: It seemed to distract subjects from the actual purpose of the study, which meant they were less likely to unconsciously alter their behavior would change to match what they thought the researchers wanted. to see. For this reason, the authors recommend including a similar cognitive task in future studies as a kind of diversionary maneuver, if only for a different purpose.

Ultimately, it’s still not clear why swearing helps reduce pain perception, but this study is the latest in a series of studies to find this effect – and crucially, the authors say it’s the first to show that swearing someone off can provide the same pain relief to have. power like shouting “Fuck!” at the top of your lungs. It’s worth remembering the next time you stub your toe in a library.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Reports.

[H/T: Psychology Today]

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