August 18, 2009

Study: Social rejection may cause pain

A gene linked with physical pain sensitivity is associated with social pain sensitivity as well, U.S. researchers found.

Study co-author Naomi Eisenberger of the University of California, Los Angeles, said people with a rare form of the mu-opioid receptor gene -- OPRM1 -- are more sensitive to social rejection and experience more brain evidence of distress in response to rejection than those with the more common form.

The study, published online ahead of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, gives weight to the notion that rejection hurts by showing that a gene regulating the body's most potent painkillers -- mu-opioids -- is involved in socially painful experiences too.

The researcher found individuals with the rare form of the OPRM1 gene reported higher levels of rejection sensitivity and showed greater activity in social pain-related regions of the brain in response to being excluded.

These findings suggest that the feeling of being given the cold shoulder by a romantic interest or not being picked for a schoolyard game of basketball may arise from the same circuits that are quieted by morphine, lead author Baldwin Way, a UCLA post-doctoral scholar, said in a statement.