Breaking-up as painful as physical injury: Scientists

Breaking-up as painful as physical injury: Scientists

According to psychologists at the University of California in Los Angeles, there is a genetic link between physical pain and social rejection.
The researchers, who measured levels of a gene used by the body to regulate the painkillers for their study, found that the human body deals with emotional stress in exactly the same way that it reacts to physical pain -- by releasing a natural painkiller.

They believe their findings suggest that the experience felt by people is the same regardless of whether their body is injured.
"Over the course of evolution, the social attachment system, which ensures social connection, may have actually borrowed some of the mechanisms of the pain system to maintain social connections," Prof Naomi Eisenberger, co-author of the study, was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

"The same portion of the brain that is responsible for the response to physical pain became activated as a result of social rejection, suggesting that, to our brains, emotions really can hurt," she said.
As part of their research, scientists collected saliva samples from 122 participants to assess which form of the pain gene, called OPRM1, they had and then measured how they reacted to different scenarios.

First, participants completed a survey that measured their own 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."
Then the emotions of 31 people among the group were tested when they were excluded during a virtual ball-tossing computer game.
According to Eisenberger, this overlap of physical and social pain makes perfect sense.

"Because social connection is so important, feeling literally hurt by not having social connections may be an adaptive way to make sure we keep them," she said.
The study also indicates that a variation in the "pain gene" is related to how sensitive a person is to social rejection.
"Individuals with the rare form of the pain gene, who were shown in previous work to be more sensitive to physical pain, also reported higher levels of rejection sensitivity and showed greater activity in social pain-related regions of the brain when they were excluded," said Eisenberger.

This is the first time that it has been proved that genes involved in physical pain are linked to mentally painful times like social rejection and breaking up with a lover, she said.

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