Certain words can reduce both social pain and physical pain.
Swearing can help to relieve hurt feelings and an aching heart, new research has found.
Swearing aloud helps to quickly reduce various types of ‘social distress’ such as being socially excluded.
The experiment was carried out to test ‘Pain Overlap Theory’.
This is the idea that physical pain is processed in a similar way by the brain as social pain, the kind you get from being rejected or embarrassed.
Dr Michael Philipp, the study’s first author, explained the results:
“The results suggest that socially distressed participants who swore out loud experienced less social pain than those who did not.
Previous research suggests that social stressors, like rejection and ostracism, not only feel painful but also increase peoples’ sensitivity to physical pain.
Pain Overlap Theory suggests that social distress feels painful because both social and physical pain is biologically coupled.
Pain overlap theory predicts that anything affecting physical pain should have similar effects on social pain.”
In the study some people shouted out swear words in response to social pain.
Others shouted out non-swear words.
Swearing reduced the social pain and also reduced people’s sensitivity to physical pain.
This suggests that physical and social pain are related, as the theory suggests.
It means the hurt you feel when someone gives you the silent treatment is, in some sense, similar to that caused by banging your thumb with a hammer.
Dr Philipp said:
“There is still speculation about why swearing aloud has the effect it does on physical pain and social pain.
What’s clear is that swearing is not a completely maladaptive reaction to a sore thumb or a broken heart.”
Dr Philipp was also quick to warn that swearing all the time reduces its power.
So save it up for when you really need it.
The study was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology (Phillip et al., 2017).