Ever wondered why a broken heart physically hurts? It's not as if your heart is literally broken, so why do we feel this unpleasant pain?
A team of psychologists at the University of California have found out that when a human being goes through social and romantic rejection, there is actual neurological mechanism at work that causes us to feel a very real ache.
122 participants were brought through a series of virtual social exclusion scenario where 31 of the participants were excluded during a ball-tossing computer game. Their emotional and physical reactions were recorded and scientists have found that the pain susceptibility gene OPRM1 that has been linked with high susceptibility to physical pain also correlates to high susceptibility to emotional pain.
Study co-author Naomi Eisenberger suggests that the neurological mechanism that triggers pain receptors when an individual feels social rejection may have driven some humans to form evolutionarily beneficial social group.
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. 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.
While now we understand how real pain is associated with social exclusion, there seem to be no word on whether a person can, in fact, die of a broken heart.
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