New study shows breakups cause physical pain

March 29, 2011 3:59:23 PM PDT
An unwanted romantic breakup can cause a profound sense of loss and what's universally perceived as pain. But is it really, in the medical sense, pain? In a new study, researchers found that social rejection, such as thinking about a break-up, actually activates the same regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation.

A team of researchers headed by the University of Michigan studied 40 people who had experienced an unwanted romantic break-up within the past six weeks. The subjects were shown a photo of their ex-partner, and asked how they felt during the break-up. They were then stimulated by a device that produces a response similar to holding a hot cup of coffee. All the time, the subjects' brains were observed on a special MRI machine that illuminates areas where the brain is active.

The researchers found that the same brain sensors were illuminated in both cases. The implication is that besides being distressful, social rejection and physical pain have a common physiological basis. Yes, sometimes, in the medical sense, love does really hurt.