the real pain of rejection

Have you ever had your heart broken or your feelings hurt? That pain may be more real than you’d guess. Researchers in the October 10 issue of Science report that the brain responds to rejection in the same way as physical pain. Naomi Eisenberger of UCLA and her colleagues monitored the brain activity of 13 undergrads playing a computer ball-tossing game. The game included two other computer-controlled players on the screen, but the human player was led to believe that they corresponded to real students playing elsewhere. The player experienced different situations of social exclusion. In the first scenario, the player couldn’t toss the ball to the other players due to “technical difficulties.” In the other, after being tossed the ball a few times in the beginning, the human player was excluded from the game. For both scenarios, the brain scans revealed heightened activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain implicated in generating physical pain, and students reporting greater distress showed greater activity. In the second situation, a part of the brain called the right ventral prefrontal cortex, linked to reducing suffering from pain, was also activated. The researchers think that a person has to be consciously aware of being snubbed before this “buffering mechanism” can work.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 10/14/2003.
This entry was posted in boston globe, news briefs. Bookmark the permalink.