How Profanity and Taboo Gesture Increase Pain Tolerance
Rascon-Powell, Dominic Knight
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Swearing increases pain tolerance possibly because of its connection to aggression. However little research has explored if taboo gestures produce a similar effect. We hypothesized that the middle finger and “fuck” would increase pain tolerance and pain threshold. Our experiment was a 2 (Valence: Taboo vs Neutral) x 2 (Modality: Language vs Gesture) mixed design. Sixty-three participants were randomly assigned to language or gesture and completed one taboo trial and one neutral trial in a counterbalanced order. In the language condition, participants were instructed to say “fuck” (taboo) or “flat” (neutral) in 1 second intervals while their hand was submerged in freezing water (the cold pressor task). In the gesture condition, participants were instructed to flex their middle finger (taboo) or index finger (neutral) in 1 second intervals while their other hand was submerged in freezing water. Pain tolerance was measured when they removed their hand out of the water and pain threshold was self-reported. We found that taboo language and taboo gesture did increase pain tolerance (F(1, 62) = 7.19, p = 0.01, ηp² = 0.01) but not pain threshold. Further, we found that taboo language and taboo gesture decreased pain perception (F(1, 63) = 5.53, p = 0.02). Although our data is preliminary, our results fall in line with the rest of the literature that swearing increases pain tolerance while adding that taboo gesture does as well.