Swearing as a response to pain : NeuroReport

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Swearing as a response to pain

Stephens, Richard; Atkins, John; Kingston, Andrew

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NeuroReport 20(12):p 1056-1060, August 5, 2009. | DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32832e64b1


Although a common pain response, whether swearing alters individuals' experience of pain has not been investigated. This study investigated whether swearing affects cold-pressor pain tolerance (the ability to withstand immersing the hand in icy water), pain perception and heart rate. In a repeated measures design, pain outcomes were assessed in participants asked to repeat a swear word versus a neutral word. In addition, sex differences and the roles of pain catastrophising, fear of pain and trait anxiety were explored. Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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