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Health: Life Hacks – When Giving A Fuck Is OK

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Posted September 26, 2012 by Ann Cronin in Lifestyle
Peter Capaldi as Malcolm in IN THE LOOP

I know plenty of people will tut-tut and shake their heads in despair at the suggestion that descending into a Guy-Ritchie-type monologue when in pain may be adaptive behaviour, but allow me the good grace to explain.

My size eights have repeatedly, unintentionally stepped on sleeping paws and tails and been met with loud yelps followed by furious apologies. That yelp is neither planned nor rehearsed; it is an automatic response to pain.

Chances are, you’ve yelped in pain. I vividly recall actually saying ‘Ouch!’ once, but chances are I’ll find more colourful expressions for my pain.  I have a veritable arsenal of them waiting, tucked away in my brain for the next time I drop a hammer on my foot or manage to headbutt a shelf. We use swear words as a kind of yelp, and yes, they actually help us cope with pain.

Chances are, unless you grew up in complete isolation, you know how to use colourful expressions and words. Your wonderfully constructed frontal cortex gives you control over when and where you swear, but it is thought that when in pain or suddenly shocked, the instantaneous expression may burst forth as a kind of cathartic swearing, rather than manifesting as an abusive or disruptive act.

There are more than a few psychology experiments I’d like to have been personally involved in, and Richard Stephens in Keele University’s tests of swearing and pain tolerance is one such project. His team set about testing the theory that pain is modulated by swearing by getting students to indulge in a little four-lettered discomfort.  The test involved having the subjects keep their hands in a vat of icy water. Measures were taken for time, levels of pain perceived, and catastrophizing. The groups were split: one group was encouraged to swear as much as they liked, while the others were given no such instruction.

Results suggest that pain can be lessened and tolerance increased by swearing. The group that swore lasted longer, and reported less discomfort than their quiet counterparts. It was also concluded, however,  that swearing increased heart rate, so a word of caution in your application of ‘fucks’ to everything! Interestingly enough, swearing women were able to tolerate longer submersion and reported lower pain levels compared with male participants, but anyone who’s been in a maternity ward can tell you that.

So the moral of this week’s Life Hack is to unleash the ‘fucks’. But be cautious; you wouldn’t want to lessen their impact by using them for just any old occasion.


About the Author

Ann Cronin


  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    So, swear when you’re in pain, unless you have a bad heart.

    Hooray for expletives!

  • http://twitter.com/nuckpang Stephen R.

    Well now I know the next time someone shoots me a disapproving glance when I stub my toe I can retort “Fuck you, asshole! It’s science…”

    Although I admit I do tend to swear an awful lot in casual conversation (depending on who it’s with, of course), but I just find creative swearing to be such fun, it’s hard to stop myself.

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