Snubbed? Now we know it hurts
Friday, October 10, 2003
9 (Reuters): The feeling is familiar to anyone who has been
passed over in picking teams or snubbed at a party ó a sickening,
almost painful feeling in the stomach.
turns out that ìkicked in the gutî feeling is real, US scientists
studies show that a social snub affects the brain precisely the
way visceral pain does. ìWhen someone hurts your feelings, it
really hurts you,î said Matt Lieberman, a social psychologist
at the University of California, Los Angeles, who worked on the
want to be quoted as saying that physical pain and social pain
are the same thing, but it seems that some of the same things
are going on.î
may also show why it hurts to lose someone you love, researchers
graduate student Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues set up a brain
imaging test of 13 volunteers to find out how social distress
affects the brain.
functional magnetic imaging ó a type of scan that allows the brainís
activity to be viewed ìlive.î The 13 volunteers were given a task
that they did not know related to an experiment in social snubbing.
in the journal Science, Lieberman and Eisenberger said
the brains of the volunteers lit up when they were rejected in
virtually the same way as a person experiencing physical pain.
ìIt would be odd if social pain looked like the exact same thing
as someone-breaking-your-arm pain,î Lieberman said in a telephone
interview. ìWhat it does look like is visceral pain.î
words ó like being punched in the stomach. The area affected is
the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain known to be
involved in the emotional response to pain. In the experiment,
the volunteers were asked to play a computer game. They believed
they were playing two other people, but in fact played a set computer
programme. ìIt looked like a ball being thrown around between
the three people,î Lieberman said.
the game excludes the player. ìFor the next 45 throws they donít
get thrown the ball,î Lieberman said. ìIt is just heartbreaking
to watch. They keep indicating that they are ready to be thrown
to. This really affects the person afterwards. They report feeling
magnetic imaging verifies the physical basis of this feeling.
It makes sense for humans to be programmed in this way, Lieberman
said. Social interaction is important to survival.
mammal, all the needs that people typically think of as necessary
for survival ó food, shelter, avoiding physical harm ó your caregiver
gives you access to those needs,î Lieberman said.
So it would
make sense that people would evolve to have a strong emotional
response to being included, socially. But there also seems to
be a defence mechanism to prevent the pain of rejection from becoming
overwhelming. ìWe also saw this area in the prefrontal cortex.
The more it is active in response to pain, the less subjective
pain you feel,î Lieberman said.