Swearing relieves pain but don’t over do it

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Posted on 18 April 2011

Swearing can relieve pain – but only for people who swear infrequently. This is the finding of a study by Dr Richard Stephens and Claudia Umland of Keele University  to be presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Glasgow (4-6 May).

Previous research conducted by Dr Stephens and Claudia Umland from Keele University found that swearing can reduce the feeling of pain. This study examined whether people who swear more often in everyday life get as much pain relief from cursing as those who swear less frequently. 

Seventy-one participants aged 18 to 46 completed a questionnaire that assessed swearing frequency. Pain tolerance was assessed by how long participants could keep their hands in icy water.  Findings revealed that the more often people swear in daily life, the less extra time they were able to hold their hand in the icy water when swearing, compared with when not swearing.

Dr Stephens said: "The important message from this latest study is interesting because, while saying that swearing as a response to pain might be beneficial, there is evidence that if you swear too often in everyday situations the power of swearing won't be there when you really might need it. “

“While I wouldn't advocate the prescription of swearing as part of a medicalised pain management strategy, our research suggests that we should be tolerant of people who swear while experiencing acute pain. Indeed, I occasionally receive letters from members of the public recounting episodes in which they, as adults, have been chastised for swearing during a painful episode. They feel that my research findings vindicate their actions. .”


Chris Stone, Press Office, Keele University.
T: 01782 733375

Kathryn McCullagh, Press Officer, T: 0116 252 9500

Kathryn McCullagh
PR and Marketing Officer
British Psychological Society
T: 0116 252 9908