Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Love Hurts...Literally!

Can a broken heart cause actual physical pain? Would aspirin help?

For centuries, poets and songwriters have made a connection between love and pain. We all know what a broken heart means, and crying is a common reaction to a lost love. But does lost love, or the loss of a loved one, cause actual physical pain? What is the exact connection between physical pain and emotional pain?

Research reported in the APS Observer examined the neural connections between physical pain and the social pain associated with abandonment and lost love. Physical pain consists of two components: the sensory component, which is tied to the damage of a physical wound; and an affective component that is related to distress. But what is the connection between the two components?

In an ingenious study, researchers put participants in a brain imaging machine and had them view pictures of former romantic partners who had broken up with them. At the same time, they received intense heat on their arms (or a mere warm sensation). When participants were thinking about their ex, the neural cortex reactions were quite similar to those induced by physical pain.

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So, if heartache causes physical pain, can it be alleviate by aspirin? Research suggests that participants who were given Tylenol experienced less pain from heartache than those given a placebo.

The researchers qualify that physical and emotional pain are quite similar, but not identical. An interesting finding, however, is that while physical pain diminishes as tissues are repaired, emotional pain can continue, and can be recalled and re-experienced for a long time.

 

Read more about this research in the APS Observer article.

Here's another link on the same topic:

http://www.latimes.com/features/image/la-he-heartbreak-20130209,0,7713731.story

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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