Swearing as a response to pain-effect of daily swearing frequency

J Pain. 2011 Dec;12(12):1274-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2011.09.004. Epub 2011 Nov 11.


Previously we showed that swearing produces a pain lessening (hypoalgesic) effect for many people.(20) This paper assesses whether habituation to swearing occurs such that people who swear more frequently in daily life show a lesser pain tolerance effect of swearing, compared with people who swear less frequently. Pain outcomes were assessed in participants asked to repeat a swear word versus a nonswear word. Additionally, sex differences and the roles of pain catastrophizing, fear of pain, and daily swearing frequency were explored. Swearing increased pain tolerance and heart rate compared with not swearing. Moreover, the higher the daily swearing frequency, the less was the benefit for pain tolerance when swearing, compared with when not swearing. This paper shows apparent habituation related to daily swearing frequency, consistent with our theory that the underlying mechanism by which swearing increases pain tolerance is the provocation of an emotional response.

Perspective: This article presents further evidence that, for many people, swearing (cursing) provides readily available and effective relief from pain. However, overuse of swearing in everyday situations lessens its effectiveness as a short-term intervention to reduce pain.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Catastrophization / psychology
  • Cold Temperature
  • Culture
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pressure
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult