Tuesday, October 5, 2010
'Heartbreak': How Rejection Literally Stops Your Heart
Heartbreak is not a myth or some mystical notion devised by grieving lovers. A new study has proven once and for all that heartbreak is a real physiological phenomenon—the one that makes one’s heart stop, literally. Your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, fluctuate when you think you're being rejected.
It really can have a physical effect, scientists have found. The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. A Noida based physician and head of Redix Hospital, Dr.Ravi Malik says that many young boys and girls visit him in order to address their `ailment`. “After failure in love, they feel very sad and dejected. They deserve pep talk," Dr.Malik concludes.
The effect on the nervous system explains why some of us find ourselves unable to eat or sleep after a break-up. And the more rejected we feel, the slower the heart rate becomes, a joint study by scientists at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University in the Netherlands has found. To test the theory the researchers asked a group of volunteers to take part in an experiment which, unbeknown to them, tested their heart rate when rejected by others. First the participants were asked to send in photos of themselves.
They were told that for a study on first impressions, students would look at the photo to decide whether they liked the volunteer. This was just a cover story for the real experiment. Each volunteer then had wires placed on their chest for an electrocardiogram, was shown a face on screen and was then asked to guess whether that student liked them.
Each participant’s heart rate fell in anticipation before they found out the person’s supposed opinion of them. Heart rate was also affected after they were told the other person’s opinion. If they were told the other student did not like them, the heart rate dropped further, and was slower to get back up to the usual rate. `Unexpected social rejection could literally feel `heartbreaking, ` as reflected by a transient slowing of heart rate, ` the researchers said.
Like most Psychological Science articles, this one suggests no antidote to the physical problems associated with rejection. But the findings help explain how evolution programs human sociability. We are meant to find comfort in one another — through chemical means, if necessary — and not to be loners.
If you ever find yourself suffering from heartbreak, therefore, comfort yourself with knowing that while the pain is real, it is only transient in nature.