Naomi Eisenberger: Why is it physically painful to be rejected

The biologist and social psychologist Naomi Eisenberger argues that the experience of social or emotional pain - not a fantasy from scratch, and the evolutionary mechanism, which was formed as a result of the need for social association - which eventually leads to the survival of


If you carefully listen to the way people describe their experience of social exclusion, you'll notice an interesting pattern: we use words for physical pain to describe the severe psychological events: for example, "my heart is broken." In fact, in English, there are several ways to express feelings associated with inappropriate, not only those that are usually physical pain. However, the use of such words for the alienation or isolation is typical for other languages ​​- not just English

. Why do we describe the experience of social exclusion words related to physical pain? Is it a sense of social isolation is comparable to physical pain, or is it just a figure of speech?

we suggested in laboratory studies that the "pain" of social exclusion (social pain) - is not just a lexical expression. With the help of my colleagues and a series of studies have shown that socially painful experiences - such as separation or isolation processes excite the same neural areas as physical pain. Here I present the data on the basis of which we understand that the processes at the physical and social pain overlap, as well as studies that directly tested this imposition. I will show a few, perhaps unintended consequences of this match, as well as tell you what this means total nervous scheme for us, and what it says about the social pain.

Does rejection hurt? Although the assertion that the refusal "hurts", may seem far-fetched, from the point of view of evolution is a sense that suffering with physical and social pain overlap.

As a species of mammals, human beings are born quite immature, unable to provide themselves with food and protection. Therefore, babies to survive, you have to be always close to those who care for them. Later, involvement in a social group becomes critical for survival; the participants benefit from the shared responsibility for food production, the fight against predators and child care. On the basis of that exclusion so detrimental to human, it has been suggested that during our evolutionary history of social attachment system is formed on the basis of the system of physical pain, the pain signal borrowing as an irritant when social separation. Probably, social communication has been so important to the survival of that pain associated with a physical injury, were included to ensure that the same suffering of their social separation - to encourage people to avoid isolation and to maintain proximity with other

. Studies in humans and animals have shown that the physical and social pain occur similar processes. They arise in two areas of the brain: in the anterior cingulate cortex, and at least the front lobe. Both are involved, when mammals are experiencing physical pain or suffering due to isolation.

With regard to the physical pain, the anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior lobe of the brain transmit emotional, unpleasant, painful experience element. It can be divided into two components:

touch screen, which provides information about where the pain is felt the stimulus,
emotional, which captures the discomfort of the stimulus - as it is banal, the way it is

. After neurosurgery, in which the element is removed anterior cingulate to alleviate intractable chronic pain patients reported that they still can determine the location of the stimulus, but they are no longer concerned about the pain. Similar symptoms were observed in the anterior lobe damage. Damage to the somatosensory cortex - the site responsible for the localization of pain - prevents patients to determine where there is pain, but leaves a sense of suffering

. Neuroimaging also confirms this division. Subjects under hypnosis increased the pain stimulus, without changing the sensory component, showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, but not in the primary somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for pain sensing element.

Interestingly, some of the areas of nerve associated with pain, also contribute to a particular behavior at parting with the right person, which manifests itself in terms of suffering. The babies of many species of mammals emit specific sounds of suffering (eg, human babies cry) with excommunication from the care of the subject. These sounds adaptive purpose (for adults - it is a signal to find the baby), that is, they prevent the long-term separation. Dorsal and ventral divisions play a crucial role in the production of voiced suffering. Damage in these areas in monkeys eliminates scoring of suffering, while electrical stimulation macaques leads to spontaneous painful cries.

Based on the data, detecting neural areas involved with the physical pain and suffering of people mammals of separation, we decided to investigate whether these areas play a role in socially painful experiences a person. In one such study, each participant was told that on the Internet it will be connected to two other people, and together they will play a game with the ball transfer. Member of the experiment at the same time was connected to the scanner MRI. Through the goggles, he saw the virtual incarnation of the other two players with their names, as well as his arm. Pressing the party to decide who to throw the ball.

In fact, there were no other players; experiment, participants played a predetermined computer program. In the first round they were included in the game all the time, and in the second - socially excluded, since the two other players stopped throwing them the ball. In response to this rejection was observed in subjects in a strong activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and in the anterior lobe of the brain - two regions associated with the physical pain. Furthermore, subjects who suffered greatly because of the episode isolation ( "I felt rejected," "I felt useless") also showed greater activity in the anterior cingulate, confirming speculation that failure really "hurt".

Subsequent studies have confirmed these initial data. Subjects who admitted that in everyday life often feel unwanted, showed greater neural activity in response to social rejection episode. In some cases, a simple picture viewer-stimuli activate the neural areas associated with physical pain. For example, viewing the paintings of Edward Hopper activated the anterior cingulate and the anterior cerebral share. In addition, socio sensitive people when viewing a video in which someone did disapproving facial expression (a possible sign of social exclusion), showed higher activity in the anterior cingulate.

Finally, separation or rejection - not only agents of nerve activity associated with pain. Other socially painful experiences - such as bereavement - also employ these nerve areas. In response to the image viewing recently deceased mother or sister (along with photos of strange women), study participants showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate and the anterior lobe. Furthermore, women who have lost a child as a result of induced abortion, while viewing pictures of smiling babies showed greater activity in the anterior cingulate, compared with those who gave birth to a healthy baby. Thus, various types of socio painful events - from rejection to a loss of - partly rely on those nerve areas that play a direct role in the bodily pain

. Within the intersection of the physical and social pain can expect interesting results - for example, that people are more sensitive to physical pain and social keener sense of pain, and vice versa. This is not a fictional hypothesis, it has been tested in several studies. The best proof of this can be found in the information about patients - people with a chronic illness is much more than a healthy, take care of the relationship with their partner, and depressed people with high social sensitivity are more susceptible to pain than those who control themselves
<. br> The second result is the intersection of the physical and social pain - that of increasing or decreasing factors influence one another in the same way. Thus, factors that are believed to reduce social pain (such as a sense of social support) should also reduce the physical pain and those that reduce corporeal (e.g., pain), reduce social well.
< br> We found evidence of both these statements. To find out whether social support reduces physical pain, we asked women to evaluate the unpleasant sensation of a hot stimulus applied to their forearm, while they performed various tasks. During one of the assignments they receive social support (ie - held for the beloved hand) during the other - not (for example, they held a stranger's hand or soft ball). We found that participants felt much less pain when held by the hand of their partners than when they were strangers. What is even more interesting, we found that participants felt much less pain when looking at pictures of their loved ones, than when viewing images with strangers or objects. It is obvious that even the thought of social support can reduce both physical and social pain.

When I talk about this experiment, people often ask, "If this is true, it means that painkillers can reduce the pain of social suffering?". The question is asked as a joke, because it seems unbelievable, but in fact, the answer is - yes, they can. To test this idea, we investigated whether the drug Tylenol to reduce the sense of social pain. In the first such study, participants took a normal dose of Tylenol or a placebo for three weeks. They were asked to assess the level of daily pain. Those who took Tylenol, noted a decrease in pain with 9 days and up to 21, while those who took a placebo, did not notice any changes. In another study, people taking Tylenol or a placebo for three weeks and then played in a virtual game on the ball transfers (in which they were exposed at the end of social exclusion). As the MRI scanner, for those who take Tylenol, in response to the social isolation of neural activity was less. These studies show that, no matter how it was amazing pain reliever Tylenol also eliminates from social suffering.

Some of the other effects of the intersection of the physical and social pain were also investigated. One phenomenon could be better understood in the light of this intersection - aggression, caused by failure. For years, people have puzzled over evidence that socially excluded subjects are more likely to act aggressively towards others. In fact it is close to the truth - one has only to recall the frequent news about the shooting at the school, who organized the students, who were later described as outsiders. In fact, the idea that rejection provokes aggression, there is a certain sense; although it would seem, given the importance of maintaining social ties, why in a situation of isolation people predisposed to aggression rather than prosocial behavior? After all, it would be more logical if he was trying to restore social ties?

Nevertheless, in light of the intersection of physical and social pain aggressive reaction to the isolation of more than justified. From the research it is well known that animals in response to pain stimulus attacking those nearby. Probably, this is such an adaptive function: the threat of physical damage they attack. If the system does include the social pain of the physical system, an aggressive response to social exclusion can be a byproduct of the reaction on the bodily pain - such inadequate adaptive function in a social context

. Another possible consequence of this crossing - physiological stress, which occurs in response to a socially dangerous situation. It is well known that the cases of physical threats to induce a physiological response (for example, increased levels of cortisol) to mobilize the energy and resources. However, it was also shown that socially dangerous situations - such as speech to an audience hostile or severe - can lead to the same physiological responses, also in increased cortisol levels. While it seems logical mobilization of energy in physically dangerous situation, it is unclear why it is necessary the body with the possibility of negative evaluation, or rejection by others. However, if the threat of social rejection is interpreted by the brain in the same way as the threat of physical injury, psychological stress can be run in both situations.
One of the findings described discoveries: the excommunication or separation can also undermine the body, as well as physical pain. Even if we take serious bodily pain and think it more reasonable cause for concern, the social pain of loss can be just as severe, which proves that the activation of the nervous system.

One may wonder what the people have to bear this heavy burden - the social and physical pain? Though painful, anguish and heartache due to the destruction of social relations perform a valuable function, namely to ensure the maintenance of close social ties. Since the rejection hurts, it motivates people to avoid situations in which it is possible rejection.

During the evolutionary history of maintaining social ties increases a person's chances of life and reproduction. The experience of social pain, though temporarily painful - is an evolutionary adaptation that promotes social unity and, therefore, survive.


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