It’s that time of year again. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, Valentine’s Day brings with it emotions, and for some of you – those emotions might not be so pleasant. If you’ve ever experienced heartbreak or unrequited love, Valentine’s Day might have connotations of disappointment or even anguish. Today, we’re going to share some fascinating insights into the neuroscience behind the mystery of heartbreak.
A Connection to Physical Pain
Anyone who has experienced an unwelcomed breakup can attest that the symptoms can be both emotionally and physically painful. Feelings of loss, disappointment, and rejection can cause physical symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, eating disorders and/or loss of appetite, anxiety that could result in panic attacks, and in extreme cases even thoughts of suicide or homicide.
A recent study actually explains that the pain experienced as a result of heartache and rejection is, indeed, associated with physical pain. The study, conducted at the University of Michigan, found that the same areas of the brain – the secondary somatosensory cortex and the dorsal posterior insula – became activated after study subjects were burned with hot coffee and when they were shown a picture of an ex. (Participation in the study included the prerequisite of having just experienced a serious romantic rejection.) The participants were monitored using an fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, a practice that measures brain activity by identifying variations in blood flow. The results are provoking: parts of the brain don’t decipher between emotional pain and physical pain.