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The F-Word Proves Itself To Be a Powerful Pain Reliever

F*ck. The F-word. It’s the universal swear word, with roots and equivalents in more languages than not. It’s versatile – verb, noun, adjective, exclamation, question, phrase. It can be both monosyllabic and multisyllabic – able to be whispered quickly or drawn out for dramatic or emphatic effect. One dedicated psychologist and researcher has devoted much of his time to adding another purpose to the f-word’s vast repertoire – painkiller. In a new study, he shows that only the f-word has this kind of power. Is it time to switch from opioids to eff-you-piods?

“In a moment I would like you to fully immerse your non-preferred hand into this ice water bath. While it is submerged please repeat the word [INSERT AS APPROPRIATE] at normal speech volume and a steady pace, once every 3 s. While you have your hand in the water, I would like you to do TWO more things. First, please tell me when it becomes painful, but don’t take your hand out yet unless you have to. Second, please try and keep your hand in the water for longer, taking it out when the pain becomes unbearable.”

Just my hand? NOW you f-ing tell me!

The ALS ”ice bucket challenge” showed just how fearful most people are of the shock and pain of freezing water – even for a good cause. In this experiment, Richard Stephens, Research Leader of the Psychobiology Research Laboratory at Keele University, continued his quest to prove that swearing reduces pain and increases pain tolerance, and the f-word is the most powerful verbal painkiller. In ten years of testing, he has already shown that swearing has a pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect, it works for both men and women, it’s more powerful in people who don’t normally swear, and its effect crosses language barriers and non-verbal hand gestures (you know the one) also work, but not as well. In his latest study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Stephens pits the f-word against made-up swear words.

“We assessed the effects of a conventional swear word (“f*ck”) and two new “swear” words identified as both emotion-arousing and distracting: “fouch” and “twizpipe.” A mixed sex group of participants (N = 92) completed a repeated measures experimental design augmented by mediation analysis. The independent variable was repeating one of four different words: “f*ck” vs. “fouch” vs. “twizpipe” vs. a neutral word. The dependent variables were emotion rating, humor rating, distraction rating, cold pressor pain threshold, cold pressor pain tolerance, pain perception score, and change from resting heart rate. Mediation analyses were conducted for emotion, humor, and distraction ratings.”

“Fouch,” because of its similarity to f*ck, was designed to elicit a similar emotion, while “twizpipe” was supped to generate a humorous response – humor is known for its tension-reducing powers. The neutral word was something that generated no emotions. The results were no surprise to Stephens – f*ck gave participants a 32% increase in pain threshold and a 33% increase in pain tolerance. While “fouch” and “twizpipe” elicited emotion and humor, they did to affect pain threshold or tolerance and caused no changes in heart rate or pain perception. The neutral word was a dud (good neutral word?) all the way around – causing no reactions and providing no help whatsoever.

“F*ck!” said those who were betting on “twizpipe.”

The study resulted in some other interesting observations and conclusions. F*ck rank in the top 1% of funniest English words. Also, when a person learns to swear has an effect on the power of the words – those learned during childhood are the most potent. On the other hand, frequent usage in adulthood did not enhance their power, so the f-word should be used selectively and judiciously. Finally, Stephens still has no idea why swear words and especially the f-word have these hypoalgesic painkilling effects.

As usual, more F-ing studies requiring more F-ing money is needed. Stephens is hoping his benefactors don’t say F*ck it.

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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