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Painkillers for Rejection

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Article by Ernest Frost

Every Therapist or Coach working in the field of healing will tell you that a fear of rejection is one of the most primal fears of a human being and is often at the root of a lot of mental disorders and problematic behaviours like eating disorders, hoarding, jealousy, financial insecurity, disorganisation, anger outbursts and many more.

Humans are at the most vulnerable as infants, before and after birth and roughly the first 7 -8 years of their lives when the nervous system is still developing. Any event which makes the individual feel excluded, not wanted, and alone or abandoned can have long lasting emotional effects. Naomi Eisenberger, a leading social neuroscience researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), wanted to understand what goes on in the brain when people feel rejected by others. She designed an experiment in which volunteers played a computer game called Cyberball while having their brains scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI) machine.

Cyberball hearkens back to the nastiness of the school playground. People thought they were playing a ball-tossing game over the Internet with two other people,” Eisenberg explains. “They could see an avatar that represented themselves, and avatars [ostensibly] for two other people. Then, about halfway through this game of catch among the three of them, the subjects stopped receiving the ball and the two other supposed players threw the ball only to each other.” Even after they learned that no other human players were involved, the game players spoke of feeling angry, snubbed, or judged, as if the other avatars excluded them because they didn’t like something about them. This reaction could be traced directly to the brain’s responses. “When people felt excluded", says Eisenberger, “we saw activity in the dorsal portion of the anterior Cingulate cortex - the neural region involved in the distressing component of pain, or what is sometime referred to as the ‘suffering’ component of pain. Those people who felt the most rejected had the highest levels of activity in this region.”

In other words, the feeling of being excluded provoked the same sort of reaction in the brain that physical pain might cause.

This might explain the fascinating finding in another study in the journal of Psychological Science, that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, may buffer against social pain. The neural overlap in the brain between physical and emotional pain might enable a drug designed to alleviate physical pain and at the same time cushion emotional pain.

The lead investigator, Nathan de Wall designed an experiment with 62 healthy volunteers who took 1000mg of either acetaminophen or a placebo daily for three weeks. In the evening the participants had to describe to what extent they experienced social disappointment or felt upset during the day using a version of the Hurt Feeling scale, a Social Hurt Measurement tool. Participants who took the acetaminophen reported much less hurt feelings than the subjects receiving the placebo.

In a second experiment the investigators took 25 healthy volunteers who ingested either 2000 mg of acetaminophen or a placebo daily over three weeks while playing a computer game geared for bringing up feelings of social rejection lying in a fMRI machine. The resulting brain scans revealed that the participants who received the drug exhibited reduced neural responses to social rejection in the dorsal portion of the anterior Cingulate cortex, the area associated with emotional and physical pain.

Overall these studies indicate that the use of acetaminophen may decrease the feelings of social pain over time.

So, the next time you feel rejected and not wanted or not good enough, you might just want to reach for that flu medicine..........


20 Jun 2012

Last Update: 6 Jul 2012

Article/Information supplied by Ernest Frost

Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.