You stubbed your toe, failed your exam, and got into fight; you probably cursed. For most, cursing is like second nature, we don't think twice about it we just do it. It is a habit that was so heavily frowned upon during our adolescence but is now a very commonly used element of our daily lifestyle. Indeed there are those who curse more frequently than others (me being one of them) but we mostly all victims of it. Whether it is muttered under our breath or at the top of our lungs, I've wondered if there are any actual benefits of doing it. I assume that there must be some kind of actual benefit considering how habitual it has become in our lives. Timothy Jay, an author of the Association of Psychological Science's Perspectives on Psychological Science, states that, "swearing is like using the horn on your car, which can be used to signify a number of emotions (e.g., anger, frustration, joy, surprise)" Which is agreeable because one of the reasons why we curse is to intensify our feelings through speech. But it doesn't make much sense how a word can produce any emotional benefits.
Studies claim that:
1. Swearing is cathartic
Cursing helps relieve stress and frustration through non-physical means. Ones initial reaction to pain and/or distress is cursing more often times then not. It is a way of releasing tension without any physical repercussions.
2. Swearing may relieve pain
A study in Keele University in Britain was done to prove this. 64 students volunteered to put their hands in a bucket of ice water and endure the pain for a few minutes. One group was asked to repeat a curse word over and over whereas the other group was asked to repeat a non-curse word. The group that was repeating the curse words was able to endure the pain longer and even had a reduced perception of pain. The conclusion of the study was that swearing helps you cope with pain. I found this to be very interesting
But is it really logical that a word can actually alleviate pain and stress? This is the part that I was unsure of. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker stated that, "Swearing probably comes from a very primitive reflex that evolved in animals," to paraphrase his hypothesis, cursing is a way that humans react to unpleasant feelings as an animal would yelp or bark. A curse is a negative word so we utilize it to express a negative emotion. People not only have a physical but an emotional response to pain as well. That emotional response contributes to the reduction of pain. As a result you can see why cursing can (in theory) reduce pain.
BUT, does that mean that those who curse more frequently do not receive the same benefits as those who do not curse? If cursing is used in ones daily speech, doesn't that make the curse words no different than a normal word in terms of emotional response? I am still very skeptical on the studies that claim that swearing actually relieves pain. Could it just be in our head like a placebo? Could a word, something that is produced in our vocal cords, really have any sort of emotional or physical impact?