“Swear words are unique,” says Timothy Jay, a psychologist at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, who has studied the role of naughty words in linguistics. “They’re really the link between the language system and the emotional system.”
Inspiration for the new study came to psychologist Richard Stephens as he listened to his wife let loose with some unsavory language during the throes of labor. So he and his colleagues at Keele University in England conducted an experiment to test whether uttering emotion-laden choice words can actually change the amount of pain people feel. Undergraduate students (38 males and 29 females) each immersed a hand in cold water (about 5º Celsius) for as long as they could stand it, while repeating either a swear word or an innocuous word.
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