Swearing Helps Reduce Pain, Study Says

It seems that your Mom may have been wrong when she told you not to use “dirty words” in public:

Scientists from Keele University found that letting forth a volley of foul language can have a powerful painkilling effect, especially for people who do not normally use expletives.

To test the theory, student volunteers placed their hands in a bucket of ice cold water while swearing repeatedly.

They then repeated the exercise but, instead of swearing, used a harmless phrase instead.

Researchers found that the students were able to keep their hands submerged in the icy water for longer when repeating the swear word – establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.


The research proves 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 why it still persists today.

Dr Richard Stephens, who worked on the project, said: ”Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon.

”It taps into emotional brain centres 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.”

If this study is right, then I’ve got to think that New York City is the happiest, most pain-free, place on the planet.

H/T: Joe Gandelman

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Joyner says:

    And Rahm Emmanuel the most pain-free man in America.

    Then again, I’m pretty comfortable, too, now that I think about it.

  2. Jay Tea says:

    “Mythbusters” actually tested this one, and came up with the same results.

    I’m no gambling man, but I’ll routinely put my money on Jamie and Adam.

    Mainly Jamie.


  3. tom p says:

    I used to be a stoic…. I would have a finger nearly twisted off my hand or an entire thumb turning purple from a hammer smack or…. and just say, “Hmmmm…. that kinda hurts.”

    Than one day I had a scaffold board break from underneath me and I fell about 15 feet, hitting nearly every brace and support I could on the way down. When I finally stopped bouncing, I thought, “You know what? I hurt. AND BY GOD SOMEBODY IS GOING TO HEAR ABOUT IT!!!!!”

    And they did, and have ever since. And I have felt soo much better ever since.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:
  5. JKB says:

    I read this a while ago. Not long after I had my own test when I hit my head. Not only did swearing help with the pain, it doesn’t require generally acknowledged swear words. I made up some really good swearing. Much absent the emphasis and linkage would have been considered innocent of foul language. So I suspect the swearing is produced by a helpful physiological response. Now, where’s my Ph.D.

  6. Jay Tea says: