Background and aims:
Prior research indicates that swearing increases pain tolerance and decreases pain perception in a cold pressor task. In two experiments, we extend this research by testing whether taboo hand gesticulations have a similar effect.
Study 1 focused on males and females who, across two trials, submerged an extended middle finger (taboo) and an extended index finger (control) in ice water until discomfort necessitated removal. Study 2 focused exclusively on pain perception in males who, across three trials, submerged their hand, flat, with extended middle finger and with extended index finger, for 45 s each.
In study 1 taboo gesticulation did not increase pain tolerance or reduce pain perception compared with the index finger control condition, as a main effect or as part of an interaction with condition order. While there was a gesture x gender interaction for pain tolerance, this was driven by an increased pain tolerance for the index finger gesture for women but not men. The results of study 2 again showed that taboo gesticulation did not lower pain perception, although it did increase positive affect compared with both non-taboo gesture conditions.
Taken together these results provide only limited evidence that taboo gesticulation alters the experience of pain. These largely null findings further our understanding of swearing as a response to pain, suggesting that the activation of taboo schemas is not sufficient for hypoalgesia to occur.
- cold pressor
- pain perception
- pain tolerance