Bad language could be good for you, a new study shows. For the first time, psychologists have found that swearing may serve an important function in relieving pain.
Basically, when we (for example) smack our bare toe against the coffee table, the amygdala, our fight-or-flight response center, fires up; one of the byproducts of this may be a well-timed cuss, which can actually help relieve a lot of the stressful emotion involved.
Psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, whose book The Stuff of Thought (Viking Adult, 2007) includes a detailed analysis of swearing, compared the situation with what happens in the brain of a cat that somebody accidentally sits on. "I suspect that swearing taps into a defensive reflex in which an animal that is suddenly injured or confined erupts in a furious struggle, accompanied by an angry vocalization, to startle and intimidate an attacker," he says.
The reasonable counter-argument is that we are people, not cats, and we ought to know better. The larger part of me agrees with this statement. We are supposed to be in charge of our instincts, and our will is meant to order our passions to serve one goal - the definition of integrity. To lose control of them is to lose our integrity for the moment. It's probably a bad idea to simply let the cusses fly at every opportunity. (In other words, this doesn't qualify as clinical therapy just yet, no matter how good it may feel.)
In extreme cases, the hotline to the brain's emotional system can make swearing harmful, as when road rage escalates into physical violence. But when the hammer slips, some well-chosen swearwords might help dull the pain. There is a catch, though: The more we swear, the less emotionally potent the words become, Stephens cautions. And without emotion, all that is left of a swearword is the word itself, unlikely to soothe anyone's pain.
Yeah, like I said...
BTW- they won't let me put an exclam next to SCIENCE. I'm trying the double exclam (‼) but it's not standard ASCII, so we'll see...