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A Broken Heart Really Can be Painful

A rejected lover's "broken heart" can feel as painful to the pain center in your brain as an actual physical injury. Psychologist Jaak Panksepp says, "Throughout history poets have written about the pain of a broken heart. It seems that such poetic insights into the human condition are now supported by neurophysiological findings."

Paul Recer writes that scientists monitored the brains of people who thought they had been rejected from a computer game by the other players. The shock and distress this caused registered in the same part of the brain, called the anterior cingulate cortex, that also responds to physical pain. "The ACC is the same part of the brain that has been found to be associated with the unpleasantness of physical pain, the part of pain that really bothers us," says researcher Naomi I. Eisenberger.

She says, "These findings show how deeply rooted our need is for social connection. There's something about exclusion from others that is perceived as being as harmful to our survival as something that can physically hurt us, and our body automatically knows this.

"You can imagine that this part of the brain is active any time we are separated from our close companions?Because we have such a long time as infants and need to be taken care of, it is really important that we stay close to the social group. If we don't we're not going to survive," says Eisenberger. A broken heart feels painful because it was once vitally important for humans to remain part of a group?and maybe it still is today. Eisenberger says, "If it hurts to be separated from other people, then it will prevent us from straying too far from the social group."

Is healing real? One man discovered he could do it. Learn about his extraordinary journey on this week's Dreamland.

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