Why losing out in love is just a pain
in the toe
October 10, 2003
By Danielle Demetriou
A toe on a sharp object might not at first seem comparable to
the heartache of being dumped by a lover.
But, despite their obvious differences, new scientific research
revealed yesterday that both actions elicit the same physical
pain - confirming the mantra of tortured romantics across the
world that love really does hurt.
The research, conducted by a team of scientists at the University
of California in Los Angeles, claimed to prove that the two neural
zones which respond to physical pain also react to social exclusion.
The experiment was centred on monitoring the reaction of a series
of volunteers who were "fooled" into thinking they had been left
out of a ball-throwing game.
Their brains were scanned using a technique called functional
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and the findings proved that
the part of the brain which was normally reserved for physical
pain was also activated by social pain.
While a cynical few might question how the painful legacy of splitting
from a partner could possibly match that of a sore toe, scientists
claimed that the research shed light on the pain associated with
Publishing the findings in the journal Science, the researchers,
led by Dr Naomi Eisenberger, said: "This study suggests that social
pain is analogous in its neurocognitive function to physical pain,
alerting us when we have sustained injury to our social connections,
allowing restorative measures to be taken.
"Understanding the underlying commonalities between physical and
social pain unearths new perspectives on issues such as why physical
and social pain are affected similarly by both social support
and neurochemical interventions, and why it `hurts' to lose someone
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