#273 – Swearing: Social & Physical Pain

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PSM 295 Final Swearing with physical and social pain

Based on research by Philipp, Michael. C., & Lombardo, Laura. (2016) written by Bethany Wellman, M.S.

Why do people swear and use profanity? Does it really help lessen physical or social distress?

Past research indicated that methods that help people handle their physical pain can also help social pain. We talk in terms of social hurts in physical terms, like “hurt feelings and broken hearts.” Australian and New Zealand psychologists examined the impact cursing has on decreasing the impact of physical and social pain for 62 participants. The “no social pain” group wrote about a social situation when they felt accepted. The “social distress” group wrote about when they felt socially excluded. Then participants immersed their hands in ice water for 2 minutes while either repeating aloud their usual swear word, or a non-swear word. Then, they rated their physical and social pain.

The “social distress” group showed an increase in social pain and increased sensitivity to physical pain. Those using swear words reduced their physical and psychological pain. However, those who swore daily had a lower pain threshold, removing their hand sooner from the ice water.

Let’s tolerate some cussing, knowing people use it to reduce pain. Yet if we start the swearing habit, will our tolerance for pain decrease?



Philipp, M. C., & Lombardo, L. (2016). Hurt feelings and four letter words: Swearing alleviates the pain of social distress. European Journal of Social Psychology00

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