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Biology, Psychology, Sport, Uncategorized

How does swearing increase pain tolerance?

So, I have heard that swearing increases pain tolerance. The MythBusters even did an episode on this. It’s an interesting effect. Basically, the original study tested how long people could keep their hand in ice water while reciting non-swear words vs swear words. Swearing increased pain tolerance, decreased pain perception, and increased heart rate. Another study that examined whether emotional responses affect pain may give the answer.

In the second study, participants were asked to play a first person shooter video game vs a golf video game for 10 minutes. After playing the first person shooter game heart rate increased and the participant scored higher on two different aggression tests. They also showed increased tolerance for cold-pain and decreased pain perception compared to the results after playing the golf game.

The researchers conclude that swearing then also increases aggression, which is then the source of the increased pain tolerance.

So, if the researchers are correct, then it isn’t the swearing itself that has the positive effect, it is the act of getting more aggressive. I wonder how this might play out in sport settings. Does being aggressive affect your tolerance of pain during sport? It might explain why, when something goes wrong in an event, such as a poorly marked running trail, athletes can perform personal bests.

Hmm, more research to be done.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.



  1. Pingback: Be more honest: swear | Connecting with Science - February 14, 2017

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