The simple trick to reduce pain – Don’t let kids see you do it

Edward Argar ‘understands’ pain caused by lockdown gathering

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It isn’t uncommon to shout expletives after stubbing a toe or hitting a thumb with a hammer.

Psychology researchers at Keele University have discovered that there is no medicinal substitute for an F-bomb.

Shouting the made up swears of ‘fouch’ and ‘twizpipe’ had no impact on pain tolerance or perception.

Using a more familiar curse word was linked to a nearly one third increase in pain tolerance.

Dr Richard Stephens, Senior Lecturer in Psychology said: “This is the first study to assess whether novel ‘swear’ words have any pain relieving effects.

“They didn’t, even though they were rated as being funny and emotion arousing. “This new finding confirms that it’s not the surface properties of swear words, such as how they sound, that underlie the beneficial effects of swearing, but something much deeper, probably linked back to childhood as we learn swear words growing up.”

Previous research had speculated that it was the act of speaking that had a distracting effect on the pain, but the failure of other words to produce the same effect refutes this.

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One theory for swearing’s medical benefit is that it can trigger a fight-or-flight response.

People in situations of stress report their sense of pain being dulled.

This phenomenon is known as stress-induced analgesia.

Swearing could be a method of activating this response mechanism.


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Dr Stephens has also examined the ability of swearing to improve physical strength.

In a 2018 study he found that swearing aloud improved grip strength by 8.2 percent, and a 4.6 percent increase in cycling power.

He said: “Swearing appears to be able to bring about improvements in physical performance that may not be solely dependent on a stress response arising out of the shock value of the swearing.

“We know that swearing appears to be handled in brain regions not usually associated with language processing.

“It is possible that activation of these areas by swearing could produce performance improvements across many different domains.”

The medicinal power of swearing has also been found to transcend some cultural barriers.

Researchers in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain speculated that native Japanese speakers might not see the same benefits from cursing as they do not have the same cultural history of swearing and a pain response.

The results were that cultural background had no impact on the swearing’s analgesic properties.

In addition to reducing physical pain, there has also been positive research on the effect of swearing to reduce emotional pain.

A pair of researchers writing in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that people dealing with rejection had their feelings of emotional pain reduced by swearing.

They fit this into a larger amount of overlap found between methods for reducing physical and emotional pains.

Research in pain follows a well standardised process that doesn’t pose any long term harm.

Participants are made to hold an uncovered and clenched hand in a bucket of ice-water until they feel pain.

The time it takes for them to feel pain is combined with a numeric scale from zero to 100 for how intense the pain is.

The time it takes to feel pain is the pain threshold, while pain tolerance is the maximum level of pain a person is able to handle.

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