UCLA psychologists have determined for the first time that a gene linked with physical pain sensitivity is associated with social pain sensitivity as well.
Their study indicates that variation in the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1), often associated with physical pain, is related to how much social pain a person feels in response to social rejection. People with a rare form of the gene are more sensitive to rejection and experience more brain evidence of distress in response to rejection than those with the more common form.
The research was published Aug. 14 in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will appear in the print version in the coming weeks.
The findings give weight to the common notion that rejection "hurts" by showing that a gene regulating the body's most potent painkillers mu-opioids is involved in socially painful experiences too, said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, UCLA assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA's Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory.
In the study, researchers collected saliva samples from 122 participants to assess which form of the OPRM1 gene they had and then measured sensitivity to rejection in two ways. First, participants completed a survey that measured their self-reported sensitivity to rejection. They were asked, for example, how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like "I am very sensitive to any signs that a person might not want to talk to me."
Next, a subset of this group, 31 participants, was studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at UCLA's AhmansonLovelace Brain Mapping Center during a virtual ball-tossing game in which participants were ultimately socially excluded. Subjects were told that they would be connected over the Internet with two other players who were also in fMRI scanners and that they would all be playing the interactive ball-tossing
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles