Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Should You Teach Your Students To Swear?
Richard Stephens and Claudia Umland, School of Psychology, Keele University, have demonstrated that swearing in response to pain produces a pain lessening effect for most people. They suggest that swearing may provoke an emotional response in the speaker - possibly aggression or anger - mobilising classic fight or flight mechanisms leading to increased pain tolerance. This, they suggest, would be in keeping with the well-known stress-induced analgesia (SIA).
Stephens and Umland published a follow-up study in The Journal of Pain this year: 'This article presents further evidence that, for many people, swearing (cursing) provides readily available and effective relief from pain. However, over-use of swearing in everyday situations lessens its effectiveness as a short-term intervention to reduce pain.' The reason for this is that people who swear a lot become 'habituated' in that the emotional response becomes weaker with use, resulting in a weaker effect as pain relief.
Was the swearing the stimulus that elicited the feeling response of anger with its physiological response resulting in SIA? Or was the swearing an expressive response of anger that was elicited by the pain stimulus? Given the pain stimulus was present in both cases, it can be argued that the swearing was the stimulus that elicited the anger response. This is another example of adaptive (i.e. increasing survival) emotional manipulation.
Many women's self defence courses teach their participants to turn fear into anger. Often it is suggested that they think of the worst think the attacker can do to them and their children in order to turn fear into anger. This, of course, runs the risk of changing fear into terror when they think of the worst thing the attacker can do to them and their children. The above study suggests that another way to turn fear into anger is by swearing. This method does not run the risk of turning fear into terror.
Of course the females participating in these courses will have to be instructed to reduce their habitual swearing so they gain the survival benefits of swearing.