'Broken hearts' as painful as broken bones
Sunday, October 12, 2003
A University of California-Los Angeles-led team of psychologists,
has found that two key areas of the brain respond to the
pain of rejection, in the same way as physical pain.
everyone accepts that physical pain is real, people are tempted
to think that social pain is just in their heads. But physical
and social pain may be more similar than we realised," says Matthew
D Lieberman, one of the paper's three authors and an assistant
professor of psychology at the UCLA.
the English language, we use physical metaphors to describe social
pain like 'a broken heart' and 'hurt feelings'. Now, we see that
there is good reason for this," says Naomi I Eisenberger, a UCLA
Ph D candidate in social psychology and the study's lead author.
Eisenberger and Lieberman used functional magnetic resonance imaging
(FMRI) to monitor the brain activity in 13 UCLA undergraduates,
while they played a computer ball tossing game designed to provoke
feelings of social exclusion.
In the first of the three rounds, the experimenters instructed
the participants just to watch the two other players because "technical
difficulties" prevented them from participating.
In the second round, the students were included in the ball tossing
game, but were excluded from the last three-quarters of the third
round by the other players.
While the undergraduates later reported feeling excluded in the
third round, FMRI scans revealed elevated activity during the
first and third rounds in the anterior cingulate.
Located in the center of the brain, the cingulate has been implicated
in generating the adverse experience of physical pain.
we can say being excluded doesn't matter, but rejection of any
form still appears to register automatically in the brain, and
the mechanism appears to be similar to the experience of physical
pain," Lieberman said.
When the undergraduates were conscious of being snubbed, cingulate
activity directly responded to the amount of distress that they
later reported feeling at being excluded. The psychologists theorise
that the pain of being rejected might have evolved because of
the importance of social bonds for the survival of most mammals.