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By Vanessa Megaro

Why is it that when you stub your toe against a door, it only seems satisfying to say a particular 4 letter word? How about when you miss a train and it feels particularly justified to repeat another certain 4 letter word? Fudge or snit doesn’t quite cut it.

Well it turns out that swear words are processed in a completely different part of the brain than regular vocabulary. Usually it is the left side of our brain that processes language and logic, where as our right hemisphere is in charge of emotional response. In most of out daily actions it is our left hemisphere that rules.

However, malediction is associated with a high level of emotional content, therefore we override our left ‘rational’ hemisphere and rely on our right side. We stimulate the limbic system in the brain, in charge of memory, behaviour and emotion and the basal ganglia which controls impulse and motor functions.

It all effectively comes down to evolution. Language was something we developed over time as a species, residing in the realm of higher brain functions, whereas emotions were considered lower brain functions as they were in-built and more of a primal trait. Swearing is somewhere between the two.

But how exactly does this reduce pain? Experiments were carried out to test the theory. One example was done by Dr. Richard Stevens, a psychologist at Keele University who made subjects put their hands into freezing water and found that when subjects were allowed to swear, they were able to tolerate pain more significantly.

The conclusion was that swearing actually triggers the natural fight or flight response we all possess in times of stress, which in turn causes chemicals such as adrenalin and endorphins to be released. These chemicals act as the body’s natural pain relief, letting you concentrate on other more important things, like running away or putting up a fight! Albeit a fight against missed trains and door edges.


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