Slipping and swearing

How swearing can be a good way to deal with pain, but socks are good for dealing with slippage

Last week an employee of one of the companies that stores items in the Admiral Storage Facility dropped a box on his foot in the warehouse and swore.  The swear word used was a fairly common one, but nevertheless a word that one might be shocked to hear to come from the mouth of a vicar or a headteacher.  Or come to that a doctor or…   well I am sure you get the point.

No damage was done to the gentleman’s foot, and after a moment’s hopping around and a few short intakes of breath, plus an apology for the verbal outburst, peace, quiet and calm was restored in the world of Admiral.

Back in my office sipping my afternoon cup of tea and taking my 15 minute break as allowed under the “Having a break in the afternoon with a cup of tea Act 1997,” I began to ponder one of the great unanswered questions: why do people swear?

There being not much of interest on TV that night I began to do a little research on the subject, and lo and behold I discovered that three academics from Keele University had indeed undertaken a full investigation into the subject.

What they did was ask a bunch of students who were on the B.Sc psychology course to volunteer for an experiment.  Their reward was to be a £4 voucher to be spent in the canteen.

To get this bountiful offering the students had to place one hand in icy water.  They were then asked to keep their hand in the water for as long as they could, but while doing so they should either remain quiet, speak calmly to the experimenter about how they were feeling but not in any way swear, or swear vociferously and forcibly.

During the process the students were wired up to a variety of machines, the purpose of which I now forget, but which were all undoubtedly very serious and important and included things like measuring heart rate, sweating on the brow, frowning, and other facial movements and so forth.

What they found was that taking into account individual differences concerning pain thresholds and pain perception, the swearing group were invariably able to cope with pain more readily than the other two groups.  These swearing people also reported a lower rate of pain perception compared with the other groups – again taking into account individual differences.

This would suggest that swearing actually has some sort of beneficial effect – which is presumably why it has caught on.

But this led me to wonder what is happening now that swearing has become much more a part of everyday life than it ever was before.  Does that mean that the effect of swearing when faced with pain is lessened?

Apparently the answer is yes – unless one swears very loudly – much more loudly than the individual would normally talk.   And from this it was discovered that it wasn’t so much the swearing that relieved the pain but the doing of something one would not normally do.

Thus people who swore a lot but tended to do it as part of their everyday speech needed to swear at high volumes and a lot in order to reduce the effect of pain.  On the other hand, people who didn’t swear and tended to be fairly quiet could in fact relieve the pain simply by shouting quite a bit.

Now for most of us that would have been enough – but not for this research team.  At the time of the research temperatures outside were dropping, and the next day there was a lot of ice on the walkways around the university.

A separate research team had been waiting for this eventuality for some time in order to carry out their own experiment which involved putting thick woolly socks on over regular shoes to enhance the grip as one walks on ice and snow.  The research proceeded to the expected results – that putting thick woolly socks on over normal shoes does help stop one slipping.

However they also found that a number of students refused to take part in the experiment.  Indeed one who did take part and confirmed that he obtained extra grip, then declined to wear the socks thereafter as “they looked stupid.”  He took the socks off, took two steps along the path, and promptly slipped over and shouted out a couple of swear words.

On hearing of the research findings of the team using the bucket of iced water, the team with the socks concluded that given that they had only a limited number of socks available their best bet would be to offer the socks to students who were not prone to swearing, since they didn’t have an obvious way of relieving the pain.

Fortunately, the weather as I write this is bright and fine.  However, come next winter I do intend to introduce socks into the area around the Admiral storage facility.

You can find more information about our facilities on our website at Alternatively, you can call us on 0800 7839 516.

Admiral Self Storage Ltd
Bloxwich Lane
Tel: 0800 810 1125


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