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Cursing or blaspheming is a custom of most cultures; Although there are some that seem to take it very seriously, the truth is that sometimes blaspheme comes out of our lips automatically, as a response to pain. Until now the reason for the imprecations had not caught the attention of any psychologist but recently at Keele University, in the United Kingdom, they showed that cursing increases our tolerance to pain and helps us endure it longer.
Some theorists have historically assumed that blaspheming is a maladaptive response to painful experiences and that it only contributes to increasing pain and emotional stress, but reality is always concerned with undoing many theories, or at least this is demonstrated by this research.
A total of 67 students were analyzed and asked to make two lists: one with five common words that they would use if they hurt their finger with a hammer, and others with five words that described a table.
They subsequently dipped their hands in cold water and were asked to keep them in the container as long as possible. In one case they were allowed to say imprecations, in the other case they could only mention the words that described the table. The researchers counted the time the students could keep their hand in cold water and asked them to assess how much pain they felt. The results?
When the participants blasphemed, they could endure the pain longer and even reported less sensitivity to it. However, there were gender differences. Women perceived pain less but their heart rate increased. Why? The researchers assert that women have a more emotional reaction to pain, they are more catastrophic, therefore, although they feel less so, their physiological reactions may be greater while men blaspheme more but show less emotions when faced with pain and, therefore, the physiological reactions are minor.
Thus, imprecating would have an analgesic effect in certain situations. Why is not yet very well defined although the experimenters advance a neuropsychological explanation: blaspheming not only induces negative emotions, but would activate the oldest areas of the brain acting as a trigger that triggers the alarm and fight reaction, which accelerates the heart rate but at the same time reduces sensitivity to pain.
Anyway, now we have the excuse for daily imprecations.
Stephens, R. (2009) Swearing as a response to pain. NeuroReport, 120: 1056-1060.