Most of us have experienced the pain of heartbreak at some point in our lives. Even when it's not a tragic breakup that leads to full-on heartbreak, the slightest rejection can still leave us feeling let down, in pain, and depressed. As of this week, science can help us feel a little more justified and a little less crazy for feeling this way.
In Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new study has found that the regions of the brain that respond to physical pain overlap with those that react to social rejection - in other words, feelings of rejection "hurt" just like actual physical pain.
The study used brain imaging on 40 volunteers who had gone through an unwanted breakup in the previous six months and who indicated that thinking about the breakup caused them to feel intensely rejected.
Each participant completed two tasks in the study. The first task related to feelings of rejection, where each person viewed a photo of their ex-partner and thought about how they felt during the breakup. The second task related to sensations of physical pain, where a thermal stimulation device delivered painful but tolerable heat to the forearm, similar to holding a very hot cup of coffee.
Researchers discovered that the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection.
"These results give new meaning to the idea that social rejection hurts," said University of Michigan social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article.
"On the surface, spilling a hot cup of coffee on yourself and thinking about how rejected you feel when you look at the picture of a person that you recently experienced an unwanted break-up with may seem to elicit very different types of pain. But this research shows that they may be even more similar than initially thought."
So, if you've been through a rough breakup, or even if you're just upset that your date from last week hasn't called you back, don't be surprised if you're feeling physical pain along with your heartache - your brain can't tell the difference.
Have you felt the "pain of rejection"? Has it felt like more than just emotional pain?
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