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Scandinavian Journal of Pain

Official Journal of the Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain

Editor-in-Chief: Breivik, Harald

CiteScore 2018: 0.85

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.494
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.427

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Volume 19, Issue 2


Taboo gesticulations as a response to pain

Maarten Jacobs / Ilja van Beest / Richard Stephens
Published Online: 2018-12-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sjpain-2018-0321


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×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.

Keywords: taboo; gesticulation; cold pressor; pain tolerance; pain perception; swearing


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About the article

Received: 2018-10-13

Accepted: 2018-10-22

Published Online: 2018-12-07

Published in Print: 2019-04-24

Authors’ statements

Research funding: The authors declare that they received no funding for their work on this project.

Conflict of interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Informed consent: The study participants gave informed consent.

Ethical approval: The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Tilburg University (registration number: EC-2013.15).

Citation Information: Scandinavian Journal of Pain, Volume 19, Issue 2, Pages 397–406, ISSN (Online) 1877-8879, ISSN (Print) 1877-8860, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sjpain-2018-0321.

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©2018 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. All rights reserved..Get Permission

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