(ORDO NEWS) — Psychologists at Kiel and Oxford Universities have tried to understand why pronouncing curses reduces pain. This effect itself is already known to science, but its mechanism is still unclear.
Scientists proceeded from two existing explanations of the analgesic effect of swear words. According to the first, curses, provoking emotions, excite the autonomic nervous system, which, in turn, entails a decrease in pain.
The second explanation claims that curses divert attention and trigger a cognitive process of pain regulation, which suppresses the parts of the brain that are responsible for sensory and emotional perceptions, and at the same time activates the opioid receptors of gray matter, providing an endorphin release. Such a distraction is often associated with something funny or unusual.
To test these explanations, with the help of a group of experts, including linguists and profanity specialists, two artificial curses were invented. One that provokes a strong emotional response is “fouch,” and the second, funny, distracting, is “twizpipe.”
Then, during the experiment, 92 subjects had to lower their hand in a container of ice water and hold it there for a maximum of three minutes, pronouncing at the same time one of four words: the well-known “fuck”, the invented curses “fouch” and “twizpipe” or but a neutral word that was also specially selected, for example, “solid”.
While the subjects held their hands in the water, the scientists measured their heartbeat, which was used to determine the pain threshold, and also measured the level of tolerance to pain – how long the subject managed to keep his hand in the water. After that, the participants in the experiment had to fill out questionnaires about their pain and emotional perception of the spoken words.
As a result, it turned out that the invented curses really evoked emotions and amused the experimental subjects, but did not have any effect on their pain sensations – just like a neutral word. But the pronunciation of the word “fuck” lowered the pain threshold and increased pain tolerance by about a third.
The authors of the study thus once again confirmed the effectiveness of curses in relation to pain, but admit that they failed to explain the mechanism of this effect. Based on the results of the experiment, they believe that the effect of the word swearing is nevertheless associated with emotional arousal, and not with distraction. But they suggest that the emotional impact of curses is laid in childhood, when people learn such words, and depends largely on the circumstances with which it was associated. Therefore, artificial emotional abuse, learned right before the experiment, could have no effect.
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