Swearing is good for you. Well, kind of. A growing body of research suggests that, under the right circumstances, simply saying taboo words out loud seems to make people feel less pain – but not just any swear words will suffice, new findings reveal.
Exactly how and why the act of swearing manages to make things seem less painful remains largely hypothetical, and it's worth noting that much of the hypothesising to date in this area has been led by a single researcher, British psychologist Richard Stephens from Keele University.
Nonetheless, what Stephens has uncovered is certainly very interesting. A little over a decade ago, he and his team found that if people immersed their hand in ice water, the simple act of swearing during the experiment enabled participants to perceive decreased pain and tolerate increased pain.
Related follow-ups found that the benefits of this pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect brought about by swearing are constrained by how often you swear ordinarily, with frequent swearers receiving a lesser increase in pain tolerance than those who don't tend to swear as much.
The hypoalgesic phenomenon seems to transcend language barriers, and appears to be related to other oddities that alter people's perception and abilities; swearing seems to make people stronger too, and taboo gestures, in place of verbal swearing, can also have a positive effect when people are in pain.