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Departments: News, Notes and Tips

Swearing Eases the Pain

doi: 10.1097/01.NNE.0000334829.68211.ab
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After witnessing his wife go through labor with their now 5 year old daughter, Richard Stephens of Keele University in the United Kingdom carried out a series of studies to determine if swearing does or does not reduce pain. Stephens and colleagues initially asked undergraduates to write down 5 words they might use when they hit their finger with a hammer and 5 words to describe a table. Volunteers were then asked to hold their hand submerged in a bucket of ice water, described by Stephens as a commonly used test for pain tolerance. The volunteers were instructed to say a word from their "hammer" list during one testing session and say a word from their "table" list during another session.

When using swear words men held their hand in ice water 30% longer than when using words such as "brown," "square," or "wooden." Women were able to tolerate the iced water submersion 44% longer when saying swear words. Stephens hypothesized that the difference in tolerance for the sexes might be related to men using swear words more often than women. Thus, swearing was viewed as a more powerful expression for the women.

Stephens reports that there are studies indicating a link between pain tolerance and aggression. He proposed that perhaps if swearing increases aggression, verbalizing swear words may also alleviate pain. Stephens plans to test whether or not actually yelling the swear words impacts pain tolerance differently than simply saying the words.

Jacqueline Ellis, professor of nursing at the University of Ottawa in Canada cautions us about applying this evidence to patient care. Telling a patient to swear every time she has a contraction during labor, or providing a pediatric client with a list of "pain-reducing" words are not advisable, based on this one study.

Source: Fields, H. July 13, 2009. Holy [email protected]%#! Swearing Eases the Pain. Science Now Daily News. Available athtttp:// Accessed on July 28, 2009.

Submitted by: Robin Pattillo, PhD, RN, News Editor at[email protected].

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.