Brain Study: It’s True, Rejection Hurts Like Physical Pain

Brain Study

Did you know that rejection hurts like physical pain to our brains? A scientific study confirms how harsh words can hurt you as much

It is not possible to show emotional wounds but the pain and its impact are always more than that of physical wounds. The most common form of emotional pain is rejection. In this social media age, we feel rejected very often. It can be fewer followers on Instagram or friends not collaborating on your tweets or unmet dating needs and any other petty issue. 

Just like we experience pain when physically broken, our brain treats rejection and other emotional pain as physical pain. It means rejection not just hurts, but it literally hurts. 

Related: Emotional Muscle Memory: How To Release Painful Emotions Trapped In Your Body

Rejection Hurts Like Physical Pain: Brain Study Confirms

In breakthrough research by scientists at the University of Michigan, results showed that the human brain processes social rejection and associated pain similar to physical pain. 

To investigate this phenomena, Dr David T.Hsu along with his team tested 18 people. They conducted the brain tests and personality analysis of the participants. 

According to the results, those with high mental resilience were found to have higher natural painkiller activations than those with poor resilience in their character. These results indicate that some people are born with higher natural pain killer dosage to embed in their neurology. 

Further to examine how rejection works on the brain, the participants were shown pictures of good looking adults on the website. They were asked if they found anyone attractive and noted the responses. Later these participants were informed that people they found attractive were not actually interested in them. 

This session was followed by a PET scan to figure out the impact of rejection on the participants. The mu-opioid system of the brain was found to release painkillers similar to what happens when a person is physically injured. 

Opioids released during physical injury help us cope up with the pain. A similar process takes place when a person is undergoing emotional distress. 

Related:How Your Emotions Are Causing You Physical Pain, Science Explains

When mu-opioid is released, it triggers the amygdala (a part of the brain that processes the strength of the emotion) and the pregenual cingulate cortex (a region of the brain that determines the change in your mood in response to rejection). 

Rejection Hurts Like Physical Pain
(A) Increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) during exclusion relative to inclusion and correlated positively with
self-reported distress. (B) Increased activity in the right ventral prefrontal cortex (RVPFC) during exclusion relative to inclusion correlated negatively with self-reported distress. The results suggest that RVPFC regulates the distress of social exclusion by disrupting ACC activity.
(Source: Eisenberger, N.I., Lieberman, M.D. and Williams, K.D., 2003. Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science302(5643), pp.290-292.)
Rejection Hurts Like Physical Pain

Dr Hsu observed the personalities of the participants and tested if people with higher resilience released more opioids in the amygdala during social rejection.  The results suggested that opioid release in this structure during a negative social experience may be protective or adaptive.

Related: 10 Types of Physical Pain Indicating Emotional Problems

The more your brain releases opioids during social distress, the more you are capable of recovering quickly or fully or possibly have a greater experience of pleasure that people experience when socially accepted.

rejection and physical pain
Brain regions showing increased (hot colors) and decreased (cool colors) endogenous opioid release during the social laughter versus baseline conditions. More the social happiness more the opioid release.

(Source: Manninen, S., Tuominen, L., Dunbar, R.I., Karjalainen, T., Hirvonen, J., Arponen, E., Hari, R., Jääskeläinen, I.P., Sams, M. and Nummenmaa, L., 2017. Social laughter triggers endogenous opioid release in humans. Journal of Neuroscience37(25), pp.6125-6131.)

Why Rejection Hurts So Much: Rejection Physical Pain

As per the research results, it may be possible that people struggling with anxiety, depression or negative emotions have the lower capability to release opioids during social rejection than those without depression and anxiety. 

pet scans of healthy and depressed brain.
PET scans of healthy and depressed brain (shrinkage of some brain regions)
The Brain Treats Rejection Like Physical Pain: Rejection Trauma Symptoms

Lower opioids released means a longer time to recover from social distress and shorter scope of gaining pleasure from social support as those who get more opioids in the pregenual cingulate cortex.

It means personality traits like resilience also play a great role in how people process pain. Not all human beings have the same natural pain-killing response. Because those releasing opioids in high amounts can better deal with rejection and its pain than those releasing lesser amounts of opioids. It means depending on the degree of resilience some people are stronger or you can say have more adaptive or hone more protective ability. 

Although it is clear from the research results that the brain treats rejection like physical pain, it doesn’t mean the brain processes emotional pain and physical pain identically.

Related:The Spiritual Meanings Behind Physical Aches, Pains And Illnesses

The chain of reaction and cascade events are more or less the same. The brain releases mu-opioid both during physical and emotional injury. 

“This is the first study to peer into the human brain to show that the opioid system is activated during social rejection,” Dr. Hsu said.

This wonderful research is a way to further investigate depression, anxiety, and if opioids could be an effective treatment option for people. Thus, new opioids could be developed in the future to help people experiencing mental and social distress.

If you enjoyed reading, leave a comment below and share the post with your friends.

Related video about how the brain treats rejection like physical pain:

How The Brain Treats Rejection Like Physical Pain? Rejection And Physical Pain

rejection and physical pain are same for brain
Rejection Hurts Physically: Rejection And Physical Pain
Brain Research Rejection Physical Pain Same Pin
How The Brain Treats Rejection Like Physical Pain?
Brain Study pin

— About the Author —


  1. Stephanie White Avatar
    Stephanie White

    I have adjustment disorder… My ability to cope with these situations is very low… While some it may be a matter of days, or weeks, for me, its closer to months

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

Neuro-Ninja Training: 10 Indoor Brain Strengthening Games For A Sharp Mind

Powerful Brain Strengthening Games For A Sharp Mind

Do you want to exercise your brain in the most fun, interesting, and most importantly, enjoyable way possible? Then you have come to the right place! Keeping your mind sharp and your brain alert is one of the most powerful things you can do. That’s why, we have compiled a list of brain strengthening games for you to try.

These brain strengthening games will boost your brain, keep you entertained and also increase your intellect. No more of those boring games to improve memory and concentration, because these are designed to be fun and exciting.

So, ready to explore how you can train your brain with games? Le

Up Next

Music And Plant Growth: Exploring The Magical Effect Of Music On Plant Growth

Science Behind the Effect of Music on Plant Growth

Music lies at the heart of nature. Whether it’s the chirping of birds, the trickle of water, or the gush of wind. No wonder plants have a penchant for music! Yup, you heard that right! Plants not only enjoy music but it even helps them grow. Let’s take a look at the effect of music on plant growth.

Music may soothe that savage beast, but it can also make

Up Next

How Do Some People ‘Hear’ Colors And ‘See’ Sounds? — A Look Into Synesthesia

What Is Synesthesia? Interesting Types Of Synesthesia?

What does the color red sound like? Only those with the power of synesthesia can truly “hear” it. It is a secret power that about 4% of people have – their senses make unexpected connections.

Researchers are now diving into this new world to understand more about these sensory experiences where one is hearing colors and seeing sounds. So let’s dive in and learn what is synesthesia actually.

What Is Synesthesia?

Up Next

The Eternalism Philosophy Of Time: Is Our Future Already Fixed?

Eternalism Philosophy Of Time: Is Future Fixed? Five Criticisms

Are you intrigued by the nature of time and reality? If so, the concept of eternalism philosophy may fascinate you. This controversial view of time challenges our traditional understanding of past, present, and future, and offers a new perspective on the nature of reality.

The philosophy of time and space

What is time? Time is a concept that has fascinated and perplexed humans for centuries. We experience time every day, yet it remains an elusive and mysterious concept. 

Time seems simple at first glance but raises complex questions. Philosophers have grappled with the nature of time for centuries, and there are

Up Next

The Dark Side Of AI: Ethical Issues Of Artificial Intelligence And Robotics

Seven Ethical Issues Of Artificial Intelligence And Robotics

Ever wondered if AI will takeover human civilization? As artificial intelligence and robotics continue to advance, there are growing ethical concerns that must be addressed. Let us explore the potential risks and ethical issues of artificial intelligence and robotics related to their development and use.

The rise of AI: Artificial intelligence and ethics

Artificial intelligence and robotics are advancing at an incredible rate. While these technologies have the potential to transform our lives for the better, they also raise serious ethical issues that need to be addressed. 

Responsibility an

Up Next

25+ Best Plants To Detox Your Home: Purifying Your Living Space With Nature’s Greenery

25+ Best Plants To Detox Your Home

Nature heals both body and mind and bringing nature indoors can reenergize your soul and purify your living space. So what are the best plants to detox your home?

In today’s fast-paced and urbanized world, our homes often become a sanctuary from the outside environment. However, it is surprising to know that indoor air pollution can sometimes be more hazardous than outdoor pollution.

Household products, synthetic materials, and even certain cleaning agents can release harmful toxins into the air we breathe. Fortunately, nature provides us with a simple and effective solution:

Up Next

Perception Of Pain: 7 Reasons Why Some People Feel Pain More Strongly

Perception Of Pain Reasons Why Some People Feel Pain More Strongly

Feeling pain is natural as a human being. However, do some people feel pain more? Sometimes, some people’s perception of pain is stronger compared to others. Why do some people feel pain more than others?

Key Points

People feel pain because of how the brain interprets input transmitted to it from all of the senses.

There are significant individual differences in perceptions of pain.

Listening to music has the ability to reduce one’s perception of pain.

Pain has a protective role. Because of pain, we can receive warnings that trigger our reflexes to escape potential dan