MONDAY, March 28 (HealthDay News) -- Memories of devastating heartbreaks appear to trigger activity in the brain that's similar to when people suffer physical pain, new research suggests.
"This tells us how serious rejection can be sometimes," said study author Edward E. Smith, director of cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University. "When people are saying 'I really feel in pain about this breakup,' you don't want to trivialize it and dismiss it by saying 'It's all in your mind.'"
The finding could lead to more than a better understanding of the link between emotional and physical pain, Smith said. "Our ultimate goal is to see what kind of therapeutic approach might be useful in relieving the pain of rejection."
Previous research has shown a link between what Smith calls "socially induced pain" -- the kind you get from dealing with other people -- and physical pain. For the new study, Smith and colleagues looked at rejection specifically.
"From everyday experience, rejection seems to be one of the most painful things we experience," Smith said. "It seems the feelings of rejection can be sustained even longer than being angry."
But where do you find rejected people? In New York City, of course, where hundreds or even thousands of relationships must fall apart every day. The researchers advertised online and in newspapers in search of people whose romantic partners had broken up with them. In all cases, they hadn't wanted the breakups to happen.
Forty people, all of whom felt "intensely rejected," ultimately took part in the study. As the researchers scanned their brains, the participants were told to look at photos, including photos of their friends (they were directed to think positive thoughts about them), and photos of their exes (they were directed to think about their breakup).
The participants also underwent brain scans as they felt pain on thei
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