One after another, the college students participating in psychologist Art Aron’s study on romantic rejection, walked in with wrenching stories of heartache. “I can’t sleep,” one told an interviewer. “I just lie there, wondering what happened and what could have been.” “I just start crying,” said another.
All subjects could explain that they were in pain, but by studying the activity in their brains, Aron and his four fellow researchers discovered that they were experiencing something similar to what a cocaine addict endures when giving up the drug.
“It’s very substantial and very real,” says Aron, co-author of a report published in the May edition of the Journal of Neuro physiology.Aron, a social psychology professor at Stony Brook University in New York, has been studying romantic love for 30 years, using brain imaging technology for the last decade to examine the intensely subjective experience.
For this study, Aron and his co-authors, interviewed 10 women and five men about their relationships and breakups. Each reported “obsessive thinking and craving for emotional union.” All said they thought about the person who rejected them more than 85 percent of their waking hours, and they variously admitted to behavior excruciatingly familiar to anyone who’s been dumped: crying for hours, begging to be taken back, calling and e-mailing incessantly and drinking too much.
Inside a brain imaging machine, they were shown pictures of their lost love, alternated with that of a neutral person, such as a roommate. When the students looked at pictures of their rejecter, there was significantly more activity in two areas of the brain.
Aron said he thinks the findings suggest “that we may want to look at things that have been helpful in getting people over specific
addictions, to help people deal with these kinds of situations.”
Dr Priyanka Goenka, Clinical psychologist, Ganga Ram Hospital, says, “When people feel loved by anyone, it gives them a high, a
hormonal kick, which, I would like to believe, is similar to a drug. Consequently, loss of love, I think, is akin to withdrawal symptoms.
“With loss of love there is depression, which triggers hormones, but I don’t think it is similar to drug addiction. So love can’t be called a drug. When such cases come to us, we counsel and treat them for depression,” says Dr S Sudersanan, a senior psychologist BLK Memorial Hospital.
The study also showed that the subjects who were rejected longest ago had the least amount of activity in a part of the brain that affects bonding between people.So your grandma was right. “It’s consistent with the notion that time heals wounds,” Aron says.