Words Hurt

Sticks and stones may break your bones -- and words can also hurt you, according to the authors of a new study. Scientists studied brain scans from people playing a special video game and report that, inside your brain, getting rejected can "hurt" in the same way that breaking a leg can hurt.

The two images are a comic strip version of the video game the scientistists used for this project. The series of people the scientists studied controlled the drawing of the little hand at the bottom of each box. A computer program controlled the two figures at the top -- although the study participants were told other live people commanded these animated drawings.

The players experienced three different social situations. First, they experienced "nobody's fault" social exclusion when they had to watch the two top players throw the ball back and forth. They couldn't join in because of fake technical difficulties. Next, the test subject got to play. After playing nice for a while, the two "players" (controlled by the computer) started throwing the ball to each other and excluded the person controlling the hand.

The researchers recorded brain scans of the human during this entire process. They report that a part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex -- a region known to be involved in the processing of physical pain -- is activated during both kinds of exclusion. This suggests that the hurt from getting punched or ignored at lunch comes, in part, from the same part of the brain.

It hurts when you're rejected by your playmates, according to a new study.
[Image courtesy of Kipling Wiliams]

Scientists studied the brain during fair play, above. They compared their results to the brain during different kinds of social exclusion.
[Image courtesy of Kipling Wiliams]