F-word outbursts, like those the celebrity chef is famous for, can actually
lessen pain, according to the researchers.
Swearing may be a good recipe for coping with physical knocks, their study
Scientists at Keele University in Staffordshire wondered whether swearing
might have a psychological effect that increased pain tolerance.
At the start of the experiment, participants were asked for “five words you
might use after hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer”. They were told
to use the first swear word on the list.
The study was then carried out again, but instead of swearing the students
were asked to use one of “five words to describe a table”.
Volunteers were able to keep their hands in the freezing water for
significantly longer when they swore.
At the same time their heart rates accelerated and their pain-perception, as
measured with a questionnaire, reduced.
The scientists believe swearing triggers a “fight-or-flight” response and
They wrote in the journal NeuroReport: “Everyday examples of aggressive
swearing include the football manger who ‘psychs up’ players with
expletive-laden team talks, or the drill sergeant barking orders
interspersed with profanities.
“Swearing in these contexts may serve to raise levels of aggression,
downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo”.
Dr Richard Stephens, who led the study, 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
Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it
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