You know when you knock your toe on the leg of your chair and you let rip with the first swear word that comes to mind and it makes you feel better. Well, it has been scientifically proven that swearing relieves pain.
Richard Stephens earned a 2010 Ig Nobel prize (the award handed out by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine for silly sounding scientific discoveries that often have surprisingly practical applications) for his work in proving that swearing relieves pain.
This year’s winners include scientists who developed a way to collect whale snot using a remote-control helicopter; doctors from New Zealand who found that wearing socks on the outside of your shoes reduces the chances of slipping on ice; and researchers from China and the UK who examined the sex life of fruit bats.
The theme of the ceremony this year was bacteria.
Stephens, a lecturer in psychology at Keele University in the United Kingdom, was inspired by some painful experiences suffered by his own family. A few years ago, after smacking his hand with a hammer and blurting out a choice expletive, he felt much better. During the birth of their daughter, his wife let out a few swear words. She later apologised, but the midwife waved off the blue language, sayin ‘We hear that all the time,”.
While investigating his theory, Stephens used a stimulus that was painful but not harmful.
The test subjects dunked their hands in a bucket of ice cold water to see how long they could hold it there. People with potty mouth were able to hold their hands in the water longer.
“What we think is when you swear you produce an emotional reaction in yourself, you arouse your nervous system and you set off the fight or flight response,” Stephens said. “It gets the heart rate up, gets the adrenaline flowing.”