Smacked Egos and Stubbed Toes

By Daniel Kane
October 10, 2003

A social snub and big-toe stub can generate similar responses in the human brain, according to a new study published in the 10 October 2003 issue of Science employing fMRI technology.

Patterns of brain activation during social exclusion are similar to the activations found in physical pain studies, according to Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues. Subjects participated in a virtual ball game that led them to feel social inclusion and both unintentional and intentional social exclusion.

The authors report that the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain previously linked to the experience of pain distress, is associated with increased distress after social exclusion.

In addition, a region of the brain known to manage or regulate distress, the right ventral prefrontal cortex, was only activated in the explicit social exclusion but not the "nobody's fault" exclusion scenario. The authors suggest that explicit awareness of exclusion changes the way the human brain responds.

A related "Perspective" article further describes the pain of rejection.