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Rejection is a real pain

John Innes

THE part of the brain that registers pain is just as distressed by social rejection as a poke in the eye, scientists have found.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles claim that hurt feelings affect the anterior cingulate cortex in the same way as physical pain.

They monitored blood flow in the brains of individuals who thought they had been deliberately excluded from a game. The shock and distress of the perceived rejection registered in the same part of the brain as physical pain, they wrote in the journal Science.

"The ACC [anterior cingulate cortex] is the same part of the brain found to be associated with the unpleasantness of physical pain," said Dr Naomi Eisenberger. "Thereís something about exclusion from others that is perceived as being as harmful to our survival."

Dr Eisenberger said the study suggests social exclusion of any sort - divorce, not being invited to a party, being turned down for a date - would cause distress in the anterior cingulate cortex.

"You can imagine that this part of the brain is active any time we are separated from our close companions. It would definitely be active when we experience a loss," she said.

"Because we have such a long time as infants and need to be taken care of, it is important that we stay close to the social group. If it hurts to be separated from other people, then it will prevent us from straying too far from the social group."