I'm In Pain, Therefore I Swear

I am a klutz. I trip over things. I run into things. I hurt myself at least once a week. True to schedule, last week I broke my little toe. I was on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night and stubbed my toe. I heard the crack – then the whole house heard my chain of expletives. Dogs cowered under the bed and my husband cautiously asked: Are you OK?

Initially I was not OK. My toe hurt and the pain shot through my body. But my sailor's song of swear words seemed to dull the pain.

For as long as I can remember, that's how I have dealt with pain. Now there is scientific proof that swearing relieves pain.

The 20th annual Ig Nobel Awards were handed out at the end of September. According to Improbable Research, the Cambridge-based group that hosts the event, the awards seek to promote research that makes you laugh before it makes you think.

This year's Peace Prize went to Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing does relieve pain. The paper, "Swearing as a Response to Pain," which appeared in the NeuroReport, vol. 20 , no. 12, 2009, pp. 1056-60, found swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.

For the chemistry prize, winners disproved the belief that oil and water don't mix.  Eric Adams of MIT, Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M University, Stephen Masutani of the University of Hawaii, along with the unsolicited help of BP, presented "Review of Deep Oil Spill Modeling Activity Supported by the Deep Spill JIP and Offshore Operator’s Committee. Final Report." 

The original paper was written in 2004 by Adams and Socolofsky. According to the paper's abstract, "The Deep Spill JIP and Offshore Operators Committee sponsored two laboratory investigations, one field experiment, and three model comparison activities related to predicting the fate of oil spills from blowouts and pipeline ruptures."

This sounds like yet another research project for the Ig Nobles – does life imitate art or does art imitate life?

The Ig Nobel winners are chosen from a pool of about 7,000 nominations sent to Improbable Research every year.

The Ig Nobel laureates pay their own way to the ceremony. The prizes are given out by actual Nobel laureates, including William Lipscomb, a Harvard professor who won the 1976 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Kudos to all the winners! And a special thank you to the Peace Prize team for enabling me to justify my potty mouth.

Traci Purdum
Senior Digital Editor