Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Romantic rejection stimulates areas of brain involved in motivation, reward and addiction

Date:
July 6, 2010
Source:
American Physiological Society
Summary:
The pain and anguish of rejection by a romantic partner may be the result of activity in parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings, according to a new study.

The pain and anguish of rejection by a romantic partner may be the result of activity in parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

The study's findings could have implications for understanding why feelings related to romantic rejection can be hard to control, and may provide insight into extreme behaviors associated with rejection, such as stalking, homicide and suicide -- behaviors that occur across many cultures throughout the world.

Study Design and Findings

In the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record brain activity in 15 college-age, heterosexual men and women who had recently been rejected by their partners but reported that they were still intensely "in love." The average length of time since the initial rejection and the participants' enrollment in the study was 63 days, and all participants scored high on a psychological test called the Passionate Love Scale, which determines the intensity of romantic feelings. All participants said they spent more than 85% of their waking hours thinking of the person who rejected them, they yearned for the person to return and they wanted to get back together.

Participants each viewed a photograph their former partners. Then they completed a simple math exercise, such as counting backwards from a random four-digit number by 7, to distract them from their romantic thoughts. Finally, they viewed a photograph of a familiar "neutral" person, such as a roommate's friend.

The researchers found that looking at photographs of the participants' former partners stimulated several key areas of the participants' brains more than looking at photos of neutral persons did. The areas are:

  • the ventral tegmental area in the mid-brain, which controls motivation and reward and is known to be involved in feelings of romantic love,
  • the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex, which are associated with craving and addiction, specifically the dopaminergic reward system evident in cocaine addiction, and
  • the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate, which are associated with physical pain and distress.

The researchers note that their findings supply evidence that "the passion of 'romantic love' is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion" and that their results are "consistent with the hypothesis that romantic rejection is a specific form of addiction." Those who are coping with a romantic rejection may be fighting against a strong survival system that appears to be the basis of many addictions. The data help to explain why the beloved is so difficult to give up.

Hope for the Lovelorn

There is hope for the lovelorn, however: The researchers found that the greater the number of days since the rejection, the less activity there was in the area of the brain associated with attachment, the right ventral putamen/pallidum area, when the participants viewed photographs of their former partners. Also, areas associated with reappraising difficult emotional situations and assessing one's gains and losses were activated, suggesting that rejected individuals are trying to understand and learn from their difficult situation--what could be an adaptive response to rejection. If attachment responses decrease as the days go by and falling out of love is a learning process, there could very well be physiological evidence that time heals all wounds.

The study was conducted by Helen E. Fisher, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, Lucy L. Brown, Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, NY, Art Aron, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, and Greg Strong and Debra Mashek, the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The Journal of Neurophysiology is a publication of the American Physiological Society.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Physiological Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. H. E. Fisher, L. L. Brown, A. Aron, G. Strong, D. Mashek. Reward, Addiction and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated with Rejection in Love. Journal of Neurophysiology, 2010; DOI: 10.1152/jn.00784.2009

Cite This Page:

American Physiological Society. "Romantic rejection stimulates areas of brain involved in motivation, reward and addiction." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100706150611.htm>.
American Physiological Society. (2010, July 6). Romantic rejection stimulates areas of brain involved in motivation, reward and addiction. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100706150611.htm
American Physiological Society. "Romantic rejection stimulates areas of brain involved in motivation, reward and addiction." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100706150611.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins