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The New Addiction: Romantic Rejection

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 7 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Addiction Romantic Rejection Break-up

It seems as though most people will probably have to deal with romantic rejection at some point in their life. But is romantic rejection similar to addiction?

According to a recent study, quite possibly yes. Researchers have identified parts of the brain that are active during a romantic break-up. What they found in participants who had a recent break-up was that the pain and distress they were feeling might be connected to parts of the brain active in motivation, reward and addiction cravings.

Using Brain Imaging

The study used brain imaging to investigate people who had experienced a recent break-up. They even suggested there were similarities shared by both romantic rejection and cocaine cravings. It was concluded that this is in line with the hypothesis that romantic love is a type of addiction.

Controlling Feelings After a Break-Up

The study also tells us a bit about why humans have such a tough time controlling their feelings after a break-up. The feelings and the subsequent behaviours they demonstrate can be erratic and uncharacteristic. The possibility that there is an underlying biological mechanism might now explain why this is the case.

We often hear about very extreme behaviours linked to romantic rejection. Everything from stalking to suicide and depression may occur. While the topic may initially seem obscure, researchers explain that romantic rejection is also a key trigger for suicide and depression.

Finding out what is happening in the brain is important. If we can understand the neural systems that play a part, we not only learn more but we may find ways to help those who are more likely to suffer extreme consequences of romantic rejection.

Stimulating Parts of the Brain

When participants were asked to view pictures of their former partners, some key parts of the brain showed heightened activity compared to when they viewed pictures of ‘neutral’ people.

One part is known as the ventral tegmental area and it controls motivation and reward. It is thought to play a part in feelings you experience during romantic love. Other areas that were stimulated are the nucleus accumbens and the orbitofrontal cortex, both of which are associated with craving and addiction. Still further parts that were stimulated are the insular cortex and anterior cingulate, both linked to physical pain and distress.

Effect of Time

Another interesting finding was that time had an effect on the participants. The more time that passed, the more the brain area associated with attachment was less active. This area is known as the right ventral putamen/pallidum area. When participants looked at pictures of their former romantic partners, there was less activity as more time passed.

Learning How Romantic Rejection is Similar to Addiction

Many people will suffer from romantic rejection. Most will probably learn to move on but others go to extreme measures. Researchers want to find out how we can better understand what happens in the brain after romantic rejection. They liken it to addiction and believe that what we learn might even be transferred to help those who suffer from drug addiction.

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