Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sting of social rejection partly physical

By Louise Kinross

Brain regions that light up in response to physical pain are similar to those processed during social rejection, according to a new paper that suggests that feeling ‘broken-hearted’ is not just a metaphor.

In this month’s Current Directions in Psychological Science, Naomi Eisenberger, co-director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, surveys recent research that shows that social pain triggers neural regions associated with the distressing emotional experience – and sometimes even the sensory experience – of physical pain.

“It suggests that there is something real about this experience of pain that we have following rejection and exclusion,” Eisenberger says.

She also found that people with a gene that makes them more sensitive to physical pain are also more susceptible to the sting of social rejection. According to studies Eisenberger references, medication like Tylenol designed to relieve physical pain can also kill emotional pain, and emotional support – such as holding a loved one’s hand – reduces physical pain.

I thought this overlap between social and physical pain had interesting implications given that children with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing both. Thoughts?


I know this to be true- in the midst of our adoption when it looked like we would loose all the money and have to start from square one I really felt like my heart was broken. It literally hurt. (We did end up with a happily ever after!)

An interesting perspective Louise.

I think possibly true as I know when Dempsey experiences social problems often a hug and time on my lap is enough to heal her sadness.

I know with Savannah when she was sick, the best medicine of all was attention and the human touch...whether it was lying next to her, smoothing her forehead or holding her hand.

And for kids, especially special needs one, there is a lot of social pain for them as well as the physical pain in the challenges they face.

Thanks as always for your insightful posts! :)
Diana x

When teaching anyone, especially the disabled how to handle their special circumstance, the pain, the discomfort, etc. I think we need to give them tools and skills to deal with rejection, not shield them from it.

Like when I someone gets a shot...I am honest...I tell them it will hurt, but what they really need to know and I emphasis is that it will stop and they have the strength to deal with it. Rejection should be handled the same way, especially now that it is proven it is very close to physical pain in how the brain reacts to it.