NOBODY would deny that being ostracized on the playground, mocked in a sales meeting or broken up with over Twitter feels bad. But the sting of social rejection may be more like the ouch! of physical pain than previously understood. New research suggests that the same areas in the brain that signify physical pain are activated at moments of intense social loss. “When we sat around and thought about the most difficult emotional experiences, we all agreed that it doesn’t get any worse than social rejection,” said the study’s lead author, Ethan F. Kross, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
The image of a bunch of social scientists inflicting pain on laboratory volunteers seems creepily Mengelian, but in this case the experiments involved were markedly less cruel. First off, the subjects weren’t socially rejected by the laboratory technicians — each of the 40 volunteers was recruited specifically because he or she felt intensely rejected as a result of a recent (unwanted) breakup.
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