What hurts about romantic rejection

It hurts to be abandoned by your partner, it hurts to think about your old love. Similar phrases are used in many languages ​​to describe feelings of social rejection and physical discomfort. Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (USA) and his colleagues know one possible reason for this: Both sensations activate the same areas in the brain.

The scientists examined 40 test persons who had been abandoned by their significant other within the last six months. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure cerebral blood flow - and the associated neural activity - while participants looked at a photo of their ex and recalled their feelings during the breakup. In the second part of the experiment, the test subjects felt a barely bearable heat on their forearms, which corresponded to the temperature of a hot coffee cup. In both cases, the secondary somatosensory cortex, which receives signals from touch, warmth, and pain receptors and transmits them to the conscious mind, was activated. The dorsal insular cortex, which is equally involved in the physical sensation of pain, was also active under both test conditions.

The researchers also looked at data from more than 500 previous studies in which cerebral blood flow was measured by fMRI. They found that the aforementioned brain regions were active in pain, but almost never in other negative emotions or in learning and remembering. For humans, according to the scientists, rejection is evidently particularly painful. (gw)