Sting of social rejection partly physical

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?