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Social rejection releases natural painkillers

Oct 25th 2013 at 12:31 AM

A recent U.S. study suggests that, when faced with social rejection, the brain has ways to ease the pain we produce. As published in Molecular Psychiatry scientists from the School of Medicine of the University of Michigan, the system of the brain's natural painkillers not only body responds to physical pain, as already shown, but also to social rejection.

Combining the use of brain scans able to track the release of chemicals in the brain with a model of social rejection supported by concerted romantic dates online, the scientists discovered that natural opioids are released in the human brain during times of social distress, isolation and rejection. The Eighteen study involved adults who were asked to look fictitious photographs and personal profiles of hundreds of people.

Each of the participants selected some profiles who might be interested in more romantically, a situation similar to romantic dates online. But then, while they were located in a PET scanner to take images of their brains, they were told that the individuals who had found more attractive and interesting not show a mutual interest. Neuroimaging during that time revealed the release of opioids. The effect was greatest in regions of the central brain called the striatum, amygdala, thalamus, middle, and central gray matter, areas well known for their activation in physical pain.

On the other hand, the higher was the release of opioids during social rejection in another area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, the lower bad mood shown by participants when they received the news that they had been rejected.

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