Why We Say “Ow”

Why We Say “Ow”

There’s a reason you cry out “ow” every time you ram your shin into the same godforsaken coffee table. It makes you feel better. 

Aside from being a ubiquitous reflex following pain, the exclamation can interfere with your body’s pain signals, momentarily distracting you, and letting your body withstand pain for longer periods of time, a study from the Journal of Pain suggests. 

The researchers tested 56 (unlucky) participants to see how long they could keep a hand under painfully cold water. There were five separate trials: at the onset of pain they were allowed to yell “ow,” press a button, listen to a recording of themselves shouting “ow,” listen to someone else screaming “ow,” or sit passively. 

When allowed to shout, participants withstood pain for the longest period of time, managing nearly 30 seconds (five seconds more than sitting passively).

So don’t be afraid to let it all hang out the next time you drop a weight on your foot. And if you’re really hurting (and feeling brazen), let an expletive slip. A 2009 Keele University study found cursing to be an excellent release. 

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