What the f***? – swearing really does help with pain
It’s something most of us do when we experience pain – and now academics have confirmed that swearing really does actually help.
Experts compared real and made-up expletives to see if there was a link between pain tolerance and turning the air blue.
The panel included Keele University’s senior lecturer in psychology Dr Richard Stephens, language expert and author Dr Emma Byrne and acclaimed lexicographer Jonathon Green.
The research was built on Dr Richard Stephens’ original 2009 study, which discovered that swearing can increase pain tolerance in the short term.
Pain relief experts Nurofen funded Dr Stephens to further investigate whether the power of swearing could be emulated by a new ‘socially acceptable’ swear word.
Scientists, lexicographers and members of the public created the words ‘twizpipe’ and ‘fouch’ to use instead for pain relief.
Mr Green, explained: ‘Our new word should be relevant, useful, inventive and if possible witty.
‘A swear word doesn’t spring from nowhere. It’s also got to have the appeal that can propel it out of its origins into the larger linguistic world.’
Dr Byrne added: ‘After long discussions, we decided Twizpipe and Fouch were the best socially acceptable swear words, as they mimic real swear words quite closely.
‘Twizpipe mirrors the humorous element of swearing and is fun to say, whereas fouch is harsh-sounding and concise, similar to the existing four-letter swear word.’
But did they work?
Volunteers were invited to test the new words, along with a traditional swear word and a control word while their hands were submerged in an ice water bath that tested their pain tolerance and threshold.
They found that they did not alleviate pain in the same way as their better-known counterparts, although they said the new words were emotion-evoking and humorous.
Dr Stephens, lead investigator, said he believed the reason why traditional swear words were more effective was simple.
He explained: ‘It seems that swearing has a strong emotional connection, and this is likely due to the circumstances in which we first hear swear words.
‘From a young age we typically learn to associate them with high-stress situations and that they are forbidden.
‘Although the words we created 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 volunteers rated the emotional impact of the f-word as one and half times more emotional than the new words.’
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