Heartbreaks hurt like headaches

Thursday, October 9, 2003

WASHINGTON-- U.S. scientists have determined that the human brain reacts to a broken heart as it does to a broken leg. Using brain imaging, they found that the brain's pain response centre perceives both hurts as painful.

Being picked last for the team hurts

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles watched blood flow to the brain as people participated in a game.

The volunteers didn't know the purpose of the experiment. Participants thought they were vying against two other people, but in fact they were playing a computer program.

The program treated the 13 subjects as outcasts by intentionally excluding them from the game. It was an adult version of being the "loser" who is picked last to play ball.

Social psychology graduate student Naomi Eisenberger of UCLA and her colleagues worked on the study, which appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

They found the volunteers' brains "lit up" when they were rejected, just as our brains do when we experience physical pain.

Specifically, neural activity was heightened in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – the part of the brain which responds to a punch or poke in the eye.

The researchers say the findings suggest any type of social exclusion, from a divorce to not being invited to a party to being turned down for a date, could cause distress to the ACC.

Eisenberger said we may have evolved the tendency to feel rejection as pain as a defensive mechanism since infants need to stay close socially to survive.

If separation hurts, then children would learn not to stray too far from their social group, she said.

Humans also need a defense mechanism to prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by rejection, the researchers say.

Written by CBC News Online staff

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