Distraction is the best cognitive strategy to get over your ex, research has revealed.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, analysed a group of men and women who had been in long-term relationships for at least two-and-a-half years and were recently heartbroken. Most admitted they still had feelings for their partners.
They were then coached using three cognitive strategies to help them get over their exes.
1. Negatively reassess your ex
The participants were asked to consider the least favourable aspects about their exes — for example, a particularly annoying habit. Highlighting the ex's negative traits would soften the heartbreak blow, suggested researchers.
2. Love reappraisal
With love reappraisal, the group had to read statements of acceptance, such as "It's okay to love someone I'm no longer with." The idea was to normalise love feelings that may still linger after a breakup, and accepting these feelings without feeling guilty, even though the relationship was over.
The group was asked to think about positive things unrelated to the ex, like their favourite hobbies or food. The idea was that focused positive thinking might help one overcome negative and sometimes overwhelming feelings that come with a breakup.
After these three strategies, each of the participants was shown a photo of their ex, through which researchers measured the intensity of emotion in response to the photo. The researchers also measured how positive or negative the people felt, and how much love they felt for the ex using a scale and questionnaire.
According to the results, all three strategies significantly decreased the participant's emotional response to the photos, relative to their responses in the control trials. Of all the strategies, distraction made people feel better overall, but notably had no effect on lingering feelings respondents still had for their exes.
Distraction is a form of avoidance, which has been shown to reduce the recovery from a breakup.
"Distraction is a form of avoidance, which has been shown to reduce the recovery from a breakup," said study co-author Sandra Langeslag, suggesting that the strategy should be used sparingly to boost mood in the short term.
Negative reappraisal decreased love feelings and made participants feel more unpleasant, while love reappraisal did not change how in love or pleasant or unpleasant participants felt. Distraction did not change love feelings, but made participants feel more pleasant.
This suggests that in the context of a romantic breakup, negative reappraisal is an effective love down-regulation strategy, whereas distraction is an effective positive emotion up-regulation strategy, the study noted.