“When you try to describe swearing in moral terms … it keeps you
from getting at the deeper evolutionary links.” — TIMOTHY JAY
on low-cal diet
Study suggests restricting
food intake may lengthen life
By Tina Hesman Saey
People who believed calorie restriction
wouldn’t extend life in primates might
now have to declare themselves monkey’s uncles.
A 20-year study finds that rhesus
monkeys fed a nutritious but low-calorie
diet have fewer age-related diseases than
counterparts on a normal diet, researchers report July 10 in Science. Also, MRIs
reveal less shrinkage with age in areas
important for decision-making and
controlling movement in the brains of
Canto (left), 27, and Owen, 29, are among the oldest surviving rhesus monkeys in
an ongoing study of calorie restriction. Monkeys in Canto’s group eat 30 percent
fewer calories than those in Owen’s group and have fewer age-related diseases.
calorie-restricted animals, report Ricki
Colman and Richard Weindruch of the
Wisconsin National Primate Research
Center at the University of Wisconsin–
Madison and colleagues.
The findings may have ramifications
‘%&*#$!’ makes you feel better
New study finds swearing like a sailor may alleviate pain
© JEFF MILLER/UNIV. OF WISCONSIN–MADISON UNIVERSIT Y COMMUNICATIONS
Undergraduate students immersed
one hand in cold water (about 5º Celsius)
for as long as they could stand it, up to
five minutes, while repeating either a
swear word or an innocuous word. When
people had a swear word for their mantra
(popular choices: the s-word, f-word, two
b-words and a c-word), they were able to
keep a hand in the chilly water longer.
What’s more, after the ordeal, people
who swore reported less pain.
Swearing also increased heart rate.
Researchers suspect the increase might
signal the beginning of a fight-or-flight
response, which may allow the body to
tolerate or ignore pain.
Jay says the study goes beyond
whether swearing should be frowned
upon in polite society: “When you try to
describe swearing in moral terms — is it
good or bad — it keeps you from getting at
the deeper evolutionary links.”
By Laura Sanders
Although the news probably won’t stop
parents from washing kids’ mouths out
with soap, it turns out that cussing a blue
streak may be a good thing. Four-letter
words may help alleviate pain, suggests a
study in the August 5 NeuroReport.
“Swear words are unique,” says psychologist Timothy Jay of Massachusetts
College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
“They’re really the link between the
language system and the emotional
Inspiration for the study came to psychologist Richard Stephens as he listened
to his wife let loose with some unsavory
language during the throes of labor. He
and colleagues at Keele University in
England wanted to see whether uttering emotion-laden choice words could
change the amount of pain people feel.
for fighting aging and disease in humans,
says Luigi Fontana of Washington University in St. Louis and the Italian
National Health Service in Rome. “I’m
confident that everything that happens
in [nonhuman] primates will happen in
humans,” he says.
Calorie restriction has already been
shown to extend lifespan in fruit flies,
yeast, worms, mice and dogs.
The primate study began in 1989 with
30 adult male monkeys. In 1994, 30 female
and 16 more male monkeys were added.
Over the course of the study, monkeys
on the full-calorie diet were three times
more likely to die from an age-related
disease than monkeys that ate 30 percent
fewer calories, the researchers found.
Since the study began, 21 of 38 control
monkeys and 14 of 38 calorie-restricted
monkeys have died. Of the control monkeys, 14 died of age-related causes, such
as cancer, heart disease or diabetes. In
the calorie-restricted group, only five
died from aging-associated diseases,
and none have developed symptoms of
“We were frankly blown away by these
findings,” Weindruch says.
The maximal lifespan of rhesus monkeys is about 40 years, so researchers
won’t know for another decade or two
if — or for how long — calorie restriction
can prolong life in primates.