Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Son of a mother! Why swearing is good for you

Digital Vision/(c) Digital Vision

@#$%! The next time you feel the urge to swear, don't hold back. Researchers say that letting out the occasional expletive may actually be good for you.

A new study from Britain's Keele University has found that swearing can offer pain relief, The Independent reports.

Researchers showed that people who cursed only a few times a day doubled the time they were able to withstand an "ice-water challenge," which required them to hold their hands in a container of ice-cold water for as long as they could. Apparently there's a threshold to the beneficial effects of swearing, though.

Story continues below advertisement

Potty-mouths who admitted to "chain-swearing" up to 60 curse words a day did not perform any better on a similar challenge than those who let out the occasional swear.

Scientists explain cursing triggers an emotional response that leads to "stress-induced analgesia" and a surge of adrenaline, The Independent says. But people who swear like sailors can release expletives without having an emotional response, so they don't get the same analgesic effects.

Study author Richard Stephens of the university's school of psychology, told the newspaper there's no "recommended daily swearing allowance."

"It would be silly to advocate swearing on the National Health Service," he said. "But swearing seems to activate parts of the brain that are more associated with emotions. In the context of pain, swearing appears to serve as a simple form of emotional self-management."

It's also unclear whether certain profanities are more effective as pain relievers than others.

This latest research may help to explain a phenomenon observed during the 2009 recession, when a spike in outbursts of profanity was reported.

According to MSNBC, Americans noticed changes at the time in their cussing habits, letting out curse words whenever they'd check their 401(k) statements and the plunging markets.

Story continues below advertisement

If you're trying to cut down on cursing, though, here's a list of alternative profanities that have yet to be scientifically tested for their analgesic effects. A sampling: "William Shatner!" "Cheeses!" "Pluck it!"

How often do you swear? And do you use any creative alternatives to curse words?

Report an error
About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.