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Pain Of A Broken Heart Is Real, Say Scientists

30/03/2011 14:43 | Updated 22 May 2015

Most people know what it's like to be dumped by a lover. It hurts, right? Well scientists now think the sensation is more than just emotional. Love really is a pain, at least when it ends badly, they say.

The pain of a broken heart isn't just emotional, say scientists. Photo: Getty, John Foxx

Researchers from the University of Michigan enrolled 40 male and female volunteers for their study, all of whom had been ditched by their romantic partners. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the experts describe their experiments, which included the volunteers looking at photographs of their ex-lovers.

The participants were also subjected to being touched by a hot probe, which was engineered to simulate the same level of pain as spilling a very hot cup of coffee on yourself.

Unsurprisingly, the lovelorn volunteers claimed looking at photos of their former partners hurt as much as being touched by the probe.

But the scientists, who scanned the volunteers' brains during the experiments, confirmed the pain wasn't just a figment of the ditched lovers' imaginations. That's because, while looking at the photographs, the scans showed increased activity in the same parts of the volunteers' brains that were active while they were being subjected to the hot probe.

In other words, the brain processes feelings of rejection in the same way as it processes physical pain.

Meanwhile, other research claims time really is the greatest healer where affairs of the heart are concerned, as brain scans of rejected lovers show decreasing activity over time in areas linked with emotional attachment.

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