Women's health * Men's health * Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Being dumped really is heartbreaking

Being dumped really is heartbreaking Social rejection affects heart rate

Love breaking your heart is more than just a cliché of pop songs, according to a new study into how we deal with social rejection.

Previous studies had found that there are overlaps in parts of the brain that process physical and emotional pain. With this in mind researchers wanted to see if and how emotional pain could affect the body.

They found that being jilted lowers the heart rate - and that even anticipating it can have a physical effect on the heart.

The researchers, from the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University, constructed an elaborate experiment in which volunteers were first asked to send in photographs of themselves.

They were told that this was part of an experiment in which other students would look at the photo to decide if they liked the volunteer. But this was a sneaky cover story for the real intentions of the study.

A few weeks later the volunteers were called to the lab, where they had wires placed on their chest for an electrocardiogram, and looked at a series of unfamiliar faces - actual students from another university.

For each face, the volunteer was asked to guess whether that student liked them. They were then told whether the person actually "liked" them or not - although this was merely a computer-generated response.

The electrocardiogram showed that each participant's heart rate fell in anticipation before they found out the person's supposed opinion of them.

Heart rate was also affected after they were told the other person's opinion - if they were told the other student didn't like them, the heart dropped further, and was slower to get back up to the usual rate. The heart rate slowed more in people who expected that the other person would like them.

These results suggest that our so-called autonomic nervous system, which controls tasks such as blood circulation and digestion, is also involved in dealing with emotional events such as being rejected by others.

The study is published in Psychological Science.

This article was published on Thu 30 September 2010

Image © visi.stock - Fotolia.com

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