Don’t feel bad the next time you use a few impolite words and phrases when you’re injured — it’s a natural pain reliever.
Researchers in England have found swearing can help increase pain tolerance as much as 33 percent.
And the effect is felt even if you use made-up swear words like “fouch” or “twizpipe.”
The research is based on a 2009 study by Dr. Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University, who found that swearing can increase pain tolerance for a short time. The new study investigated whether people could use more appropriate language when injured and get the same effect.
Stephens, along with language expert and author, Dr Emma Byrne, and acclaimed lexicographer Jonathon Green, created two invented swear words, “twizpipe” and “fouch,” for the study.
The authors recruited volunteers to test the new words alongside a traditional swear word and a control word while their hands were submerged in ice water. They found that new swear words did not raise pain tolerance as much as swearing did, despite participants rating the new words as emotion-evoking and humorous.
“From a young age we typically learn to associate them with high-stress situations and that they are forbidden. The study found that these strong sentiments cannot be mimicked by newly created swear words,” says Dr. Stephens. “Although the words we created, twizpipe or fouch, were shown to be similar to existing swear words in that they were rated as emotion evoking and humorous, they didn’t cut it when it came to pain relief. Repeating the f-word was the best option for increasing tolerance to pain.”
The real swear words were also consistently rated higher in emotional impact than the invented ones, the researchers say.
Researchers still aren’t sure why real swear words affect pain tolerance, but they hypothesize that the deep emotional connection with swear words could be the reason why they help people tolerate pain.
The study was funded by the pain reliever Nurofen.