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Betty L. Torain

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Pain Of Rejection Is Real!
Monday, April 17, 2006  8:37:00 PM

by Betty L. Torain


Research find physiological basis for social pain.

A rejected lover's broken heart may cause as much distress in a pain center of the brain as an actual physical injury, according to new research.

California researchers have found a physiological basis for social pain by monitoring the brains of people who thought they had been maliciously excluded from a computer game by other players.

Naomi I. Eisenberger, a scientist of the University of California, Los Angeles and the first author of the study to be published journal Science, said the suggest that the need for social inclusiveness is a deep-seated part of what it means to be human.

"These findings show how deeply rooted our need is for social connection," Eisenberger said.

"There's something about exclusion from others that is perceived as being as harmful to our survival as something that can physically hurt us, and our body automatically knows this."

Eisenberger and her co-authors created a computer game in which test subjects were led to think they were playing ball with two other players. At some point, the other players seemed to exclude the test subject from the game--making it appear the subject had been suddenly rejected and blocked from playing with the group.

The shock and distress of this rejection registered in the same part of the brain, called the anterior cingulate cortex, that also responds to physical pain, Eisenberger said.

"The ACC is the same part of the brain that has been found to associated the unpleasantness of physical pain, the part of pain that really bothers us," Eisenberger said.

Eisenberger said the study suggest that social exclusion of any sort--divorce, not invited to a party, being turned down for a date--would cause distress in the ACC.

Throughout history, poets have written about the pain of a broken heart," Panksepp said in his commentary." It seems that such poetic insights in the human condition are now supported by neurophysiological findings.

The tendency to feel rejection as an acute pain may have developed in humans as a defensive mechanism for the species, Eisenberger said.

"Because we have such a long time as infants and need to be taken care of. It is really important that we stay close to the social group. If we don't we're not going to survive," Eisenberger said.

Thanks, The Associated Press.

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