It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“New research suggests that the same areas in the brain that signify physical pain are activated at the moments of intense social loss.” (“Rejection May Hurt More Than Feelings,” New York Times, 5/6/2011)
Love hurts. So can friendship. This latest study proves it.
One quote, from the study’s lead author Ethan F. Kross, really stuck with me: “When we sat around and thought about the most difficult emotional experiences, we all agreed that it doesn’t get any worse than social rejection.”
It’s not that I don’t agree—I absolutely do. I guess the image of five scientists sitting around and talking about what hurts the most, and agreeing that feeling left out is The Worst, just surprises me. Admitting to social rejection calls for a certain amount of vulnerability that I don’t equate with the science lab.
It’s also interesting—might I say, nice?—to hear that men feel the same sting of social rejection that women do. It hurts! Bad! Good to know we’re all on the same page.
Previous research had found the opposite, that “while social rejection hurt, it did not activate parts of the brain associated with physical distress.” Turns out, though, that not all social rejection is created equal. “According to the authors, the emotional pain simulated in previous experiments (being told a stranger dislikes them, looking at rejection-themed paintings) wasn’t powerful to elicit a true-to-life response.”
I’m kind of surprised that any scientist, ever, wouldn’t realize that thinking a stranger dislikes you is far less painful that getting dumped by a friend, mocked by a colleague, or left out by your group of besties. I mean, really. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. (Get it? Get it? ‘Cause these people are actual scientists!)
Most women have been through this kind of painful physical rejection before. Even if the official science wasn’t out there, I wonder if we all knew, in some small way, that this pain was legit. That might explain why we have such horrible guilt when we break up with friends. If we know, however subconsciously, that we’re inflicting genuine pain on someone? Well, that’s just not in our nature. I hope.
I don’t know. This is all just hypothesizing.
But regarding the pain aspect, apparently the part of the brain that is affected by spilling hot coffee on yourself is the same as the part affected by social rejection. Ouch.
Personally, my social rejection pain seems to manifest in my stomach. Just thinking about my worst moments of feeling rejected starts to tie my stomach in knots. Blurgh.
Have you experienced the physical pain of social rejection? Does this research surprise you, or is it a bit of a duh moment? Think this is why we ladies feel so guilty about breaking up with friends?