Scientists have discovered that unlike other unpleasant feelings, a broken heart actually activates the brain’s “pain matrix,” a region of the organ that actually exists.
Columbia University psychology professor Edward Smith said that even anger and fear don’t cause the pain matrix flare up seen when romantic rejection occurs. A study of 40 people was recently published in the medical journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which participants were shown images of a lost love and a friend of the same gender. The visual stimulation was measured against warm and hot sensations on the skin, and the individuals were asked to rate the sensations.
Ethan Kross, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, explained the findings:
“Spilling a hot cup of coffee on yourself and thinking about how rejected you feel when you look at the picture of a person that you recently experienced an unwanted breakup with may seem to elicit very different types of pain… But this research shows that they may be even more similar than initially thought.”
Smith theorized that early humans were at a far greater risk when abandoned by loved ones, possibly causing us to develop a strong aversion to rejection.