Mon Jul 13, 2009 11:31am EDT
LONDON (Reuters) - Cut your finger? Hurt your leg? Start swearing. It might lessen the pain.
Researchers from the school of psychology at Britain's Keele University have found swearing can make you feel better as it can have a "pain-lessening effect," according to a study published in the journal NeuroReport.
Colleagues Richard Stephens, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston, set out to establish if there was any link between swearing and physical pain.
"Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon," says Stephens.
"It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists."
Their study involved 64 volunteers who were each asked to put their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice.
They then repeated the experiment using a more commonplace word that they would use to describe a table.
The researchers found the volunteers were able to keep their hands in the ice water for a longer when swearing, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.
Stephens said it was not clear how or why this link existed but it could be because swearing may increase aggression.
"What is clear is that swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too, which may explain why the centuries-old practice of cursing developed and still persists today," he said.