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Swearing Aloud Relieves Emotional Pain


Whether your friend has hurt your feelings or you’re upset over a lovers tiff, swearing could help to ease your pain, according to new research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

Carried out by Dr Michael Philipp, a lecturer at Massey University’s School of Psychology, New Zealand, along with Laura Lombardo from the University of Queensland, Australia, the work looks at the effect of swearing on “short-term social distress,” which could be anything from an argument with your partner to being excluded from a social situation.

Although previous studies have looked at common methods for relieving both physical and social pain, fir example with paracetamol, none have so far looked at whether swearing aloud could also help relieve social distress in the same way that it has previously been shown to ease physical distress.

To test this idea, the study looked at Pain Overlap Theory, which suggests that physical and social/emotional pain share the same underlying processing system, and anything affecting physical pain will also have similar effects on social pain. 

For the research 70 participants were split into two groups, and tested for feelings of social pain and sensitivity to physical pain.

During the study participants had to write either about an inclusive social situation, or a distressing one, to induce the corresponding emotions. They were then were randomly assigned to either swear aloud or say a non-swear word aloud.

The results showed that those participants who were socially distressed experienced less social pain and less sensitivity to physical pain than those who didn’t swear.

“Previous research suggests that social stressors, like rejection and ostracism, not only feel painful but also increase people’s sensitivity to physical pain,” explained Dr Phillip. He also added that swearing can help ease both social and physical pain by reducing its intensity, by distracting the person in pain.

However, Dr Phillip also pointed out that swearing may not have the same effect if used on an everyday basis or in a situation which is only mildly irritating or stressful, when the use of profanity may lose its impact.

He also added that swearing is not a quick answer for those experiencing serious emotional pain and stress such as grief or abuse, when clinical care may be needed.

Previous research on swearing has also found that cursing aloud can make you stronger. In a small-scale study published early last month, a team of researchers found that participants who completed a test of anaerobic power — a short, intense period on an exercise bike — and isometric handgrip test — produced more power and had a stronger grip if they swore while completing the exercises.

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