The Expletive Anecdote

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Swearing increases pain tolerance, according to a recent study published in NeuroReport.

(For details, check out this SciAm article.)
The researchers used a standard pain tolerance measure– timing how long a person can hold their hand in a bucket of freezing water– and compared a group of people using cuss words with a group that could only use neutral words, like “table” or “blue.”
The fowl-mouths were able to keep their hands submerged for significantly longer, suggesting that swearing provides pain relief.
The study seems solid, but I still have some questions.
I wonder if there is any difference in pain-relief between people who swear constantly and those who only rarely hurl imprecations. Maybe people who swear all the freaking time are actually sabotaging their natural pain defenses. (After all, now we need for a new reason not to swear, because science is making it look like an excellent idea…like getting your endorphin fix from jogging instead of marijuana.)
Also, I wonder what exactly makes a swear word so great. Is it the social taboo? Is it the phonetics? I’d like to see a study where they compare a group of subjects using standard explitives to a group using the silly ones, like “dang” or “fustercluck.”
Personally, I feel like shouting the word “sassafras” would cool me off pretty quick. It’s got all those hisses and sharp a’s.

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