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UCLA scientists have conducted a study that for the first time gives weight to the popular argument that rejection really does “hurt”. They have determined that a gene that was previously linked to physical pain is associated with “social pain’ sensitivity as well.
Naomi Eisenberger, a researcher at UCLA who is one of the study's authors, said that, for humans, it may be highly adaptive to experience the sting of social rejection as physical pain. Pain is nature's way of alerting us to dangers such as poisonous animals and proximity to fire. Perhaps, said Eisenberger, psychological pain was an effective way to keep us from withdrawing from family and friends who help us tend our young, catch our food and protect us from predators. It is no surprise that two functions might eventually have evolved to use the same brain circuitry, said Eisenberger.
"It helps us make sure we stay connected."