Many parents have used the phrase, “If you’re going to act like a baby, I’ll treat you like one,” and science suggests that that actually might be the key to killing pain. They may not be the toughest types of people, but there’s evidence that babies might have the best strategies for managing pain and discomfort. Crying, whining, and other audible expressions of anguish not only help babies call for help, but also make people of any age feel better. So if your back hurts, the following studies make a scientific case for being a baby about it.
When researchers submerged 56 adults’ hands in ice water, they found that participants were able to tolerate the pain much longer if they vocalized it. “A simple vocal act such as saying ‘ow’ helps individuals cope with pain. Participants tolerated a noxious stimulus longer when vocalizing than when being silent,” study authors wrote in The Journal of Pain. Scientists suspect that the results aren’t limited to the word “ow” or buckets of ice water, but that there’s something about a person broadcasting their pain that makes it more tolerable.
Audible sounds might help to reduce pain because in order to make noises people need to use muscles that activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Muscles that raise the lower ribs and help to produce sound might also be instrumental in moderating pain, research suggests. Other studies indicate that deep breathing can also activate these muscles in order to make aches and pains more manageable. Still, it’s so much more fun to scream.
Like screaming and yelling, crying has been found to stimulate the nervous system in similar ways, which helps people relax. Acting like a baby — by sobbing — comes with added scientific benefits, as well. Crying releases endorphins while helping people to shed harmful stress hormones. Finally, tears lubricate the eyes so people can actually see more clearly when the emotional rain is gone. Women cry about five times more than men a year, on average, and for about twice as long, but it might not be because they’re sad: guys might just be missing out.
If screaming, crying, and saying “ow” feel too juvenile, dads can achieve similar pain management effects with the help of their favorite expletives. Another experiment demonstrated that swearing helped people keep their hands submerged in ice water, but not just because they were making noise: Scientists suspect that swearing, specifically, made people feel more aggressive, and aggression has been linked with higher pain tolerances. That’s why swearing is a necessary part of stepping on a Lego.
Whether people opt to scream, cry, or swear, letting people know that they’re in pain is an important primitive response that’s meant to signal the need for help. Human beings start doing this as newborns and research shows that how caretakers respond has a direct effect on how their brains develop. As they grow up, such audible signals that they’re hurt might create a conditioned response or a placebo effect that helps soothe pain whether people attend to it or not. So stop suffering in silence and go ahead and act like a baby. At least you’ll be a happy one.
Originally Published on Fatherly.
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