The Snitch

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Swear it again

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Maybe swearing should be tolerated in the office after all.

The next time you’re writing a memo to warn employees not to cuss and swear in the office, don’t. Studies have recently found that swearing and reduce the actual experience of physical pain.

“Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon” says Dr. Richard Stephens. “It taps into emotional brain centres and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists.”

Richard Stephens and his colleagues John Atkins and Andrew Kingston enlisted the help of 64 undergraduate volunteers for an “Ice Water Test”, in which each individual was asked to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. Next, they were asked to repeat the experiment using a word they would use to describe a table. The team found that the volunteers were able to keep their hands submerged for a longer period of time when repeating the swear word.

The link is unclear, but the team believes the increase in pain tolerance occurs because swearing triggers a natural “fight-or flight” response. The accelerated heart rate when repeating a swear word may increase aggression, “downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo”.

Swearing triggers a physical response on top of an emotional response, which may be an explanation why the centuries-old practice of cursing still persists today.


Written by KT

July 14, 2009 at 11:45 am

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