20 August 2009
In a landmark research, psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the human body has a gene which connects physical pain sensitivity with social pain sensitivity.
The research, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, backs the commonly held theory that rejection “hurts” by showing that a gene regulating the body's most potent painkillers – mu–opioids – is involved in socially painful experiences too.
“Individuals with the rare form of the pain gene, who were shown in previous work to be more sensitive to physical pain, also reported higher levels of rejection sensitivity and showed greater activity in social pain–related regions of the brain when they were excluded,” said Prof Naomi Eisenberger, the study co–author.
The study indicates that a variation in the mu–opioid receptor gene (OPRM1), often associated with physical pain, is related to how much social pain a person feels in response to social rejection, the Daily Telegraph reported.
“These findings suggest that the feeling of being given the cold shoulder by a romantic interest or not being picked for a schoolyard game of basketball may arise from the same circuits,” said co–author Baldwin Way.
According to Prof Eisenberger, this overlap in the neurobiology of physical and social pain makes perfect sense.