Advertisement

Swearing as a Response to Pain—Effect of Daily Swearing Frequency

Published:November 14, 2011DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2011.09.004

      Abstract

      Previously we showed that swearing produces a pain lessening (hypoalgesic) effect for many people.
      • Stephens R.
      • Atkins J.
      • Kingston A.
      Swearing as a response to pain.
      This paper assesses whether habituation to swearing occurs such that people who swear more frequently in daily life show a lesser pain tolerance effect of swearing, compared with people who swear less frequently. Pain outcomes were assessed in participants asked to repeat a swear word versus a nonswear word. Additionally, sex differences and the roles of pain catastrophizing, fear of pain, and daily swearing frequency were explored. Swearing increased pain tolerance and heart rate compared with not swearing. Moreover, the higher the daily swearing frequency, the less was the benefit for pain tolerance when swearing, compared with when not swearing. This paper shows apparent habituation related to daily swearing frequency, consistent with our theory that the underlying mechanism by which swearing increases pain tolerance is the provocation of an emotional response.

      Perspective

      This article presents further evidence that, for many people, swearing (cursing) provides readily available and effective relief from pain. However, overuse of swearing in everyday situations lessens its effectiveness as a short-term intervention to reduce pain.

      Key words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment
      Subscribe to The Journal of Pain
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect

      References

        • Borg G.
        Borg’s Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales.
        Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL1998
        • Bruehl S.
        • Burn J.W.
        • Chung O.Y.
        • Chont M.
        Review: Pain-related effects of trait anger expression: Neural substrates and the role of endogenous opioid mechanisms.
        Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009; 33: 475-491
        • Cannon W.B.
        Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage.
        Appleton, New York, NY1929
        • Cohen J.
        Statistical Power for the Behavioral Sciences.
        Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ1988
        • Cohen J.
        • Cohen P.
        • West S.G.
        • Aiken L.S.
        Applied Multiple Regression/Correlation Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences.
        Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ2003
        • George S.Z.
        • Hirsh A.T.
        Psychologic influence on experimental pain sensitivity and clinical pain intensity for patients with shoulder pain.
        J Pain. 2009; 10: 293-299
        • Hsieh A.Y.
        • Tripp D.A.
        • Ji L.J.
        • Sullivan M.J.L.
        Comparisons of catastrophizing, pain attitudes, and cold-pressor pain experience between Chinese and European Canadian young adults.
        J Pain. 2010; 11: 1187-1194
        • Jay T.B.
        The utility and ubiquity of taboo words.
        Perspect Psychol Sci. 2009; 4: 153-161
        • McNeill D.W.
        • Rainwater A.J.
        Development of the Fear of Pain Questionnaire-III.
        J Behav Med. 1988; 21: 389-410
        • Pinker S.
        The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.
        Viking, New York, NY2007
        • Rankin C.H.
        • Abrams T.
        • Barry R.J.
        • Bhatnagar S.
        • Clayton D.F.
        • Colombo J.
        • Coppola G.
        • Geyer M.A.
        • Glanzman D.L.
        • Marsland S.
        • McSweeney F.K.
        • Wilson D.A.
        • Wum C.F.
        • Thompson R.F.
        Habituation revisited: An updated and revised description of the behavioral characteristics of habituation.
        Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2009; 92: 135-138
        • Raudenbush B.
        • Koon J.
        • Cessna T.
        • McCombs K.
        Effects of playing video games on pain response during a cold pressor task.
        Percept Mot Skills. 2009; 108: 439-448
        • Rhudy J.L.
        • Meagher M.W.
        Fear and anxiety: Divergent effects on human pain thresholds.
        Pain. 2000; 84: 65-75
        • Rhudy J.L.
        • Meagher M.W.
        Negative affect: Effects on an evaluative measure of human pain.
        Pain. 2003; 104: 617-626
        • Rutherford A.
        Introducing ANOVA and ANCOVA: A GLM Approach.
        Sage, London, UK2001
        • Séguin J.R.
        • Pihl R.O.
        • Boulerice B.
        • Tremblay R.E.
        • Harden P.W.
        Pain sensitivity and stability of physical aggression in boys.
        J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 1996; 37: 823-834
        • Shaffer J.P.
        Multiple hypothesis testing.
        Annu Rev Psychol. 1995; 46: 561-584
      1. Sharples T: Bleep! My Finger! Why Swearing Helps Ease Pain. Available at: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1910691,00.html. Accessed March 14, 2011

      2. Soanes C. Pocket Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK2002
        • Stephens R.
        • Atkins J.
        • Kingston A.
        Swearing as a response to pain.
        Neuroreport. 2009; 20: 1056-1060
        • Stephenson D.
        • Siddle D.
        Theories of habituation.
        in: Siddle D. Orienting and Habituation: Perspectives in Human Research. John Wiley & Sons, London, UK1983: 183-236
        • Sullivan M.J.L.
        • Bishop S.
        • Pivik J.
        The pain catatastrophizing scale: Development and validation.
        Psychol Assess. 1995; 7: 524-532
        • Van Lancker D.
        • Cummings J.L.
        Expletives: Neurolinguistics and neurobehavioral perspectives on swearing.
        Brain Res Rev. 1999; 31: 83-104
        • Xie X.
        • Wisor J.P.
        • Hara J.
        • Crowder T.L.
        • LeWinter R.
        • Khroyan T.V.
        • Yamanaka A.
        • Diano S.
        • Horvath T.L.
        • Sakurai T.
        • Toll L.
        • Kilduff T.S.
        Hypocretin/orexin and nociceptin/orphanin FQ coordinately regulate analgesia in a mouse model of stress-induced analgesia.
        J Clin Invest. 2008; 118: 2471-2481
        • Zbrożyna A.W.
        • Krebbel F.
        Habituation of the cold pressor response in normo- and hypertensive human subjects.
        Eur J Appl Physiol. 1985; 54: 136-144