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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Anatomy of a Broken Heart

Happy Valentines Day to all you bloggers out there! In my pathetic Valentines night full of ice cream, sappy movies, and shoe shopping, I stumbled across and interesting article about how the body responds to emotional distress, like a broken heart. The body responds to emotional distress the same way is responds to physical distress.Naomi Eisenberger and Dr Matthew Lieberman of the University of California Los Angeles and Professor Kipling Williams of Macquarie University used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to study the blood flow in the brain when a person experiences a "social snub". Subject were observed by MRI while they were put through a video simulated ball throwing game. The game had the subjects first observe the game, become involve in the game by having them throw and catch the ball, then they were put through the phase where they were purposely shunned from the game.

They found that at the point where they were left out of the game there were changes in the blood flow to the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex became more active at this point, where part of the prefrontal cortex became less active. The anterior cingulate cortex is known to be linked to physical distress. The prefrontal cortex is known to regulate distress. The body seems to respond similarly to physical pain as it does to emotional pain. To quote the article I read “This suggests the anterior cingulate is more important for elaborating feelings of emotional distress, whereas the prefrontal cortex, already implicated in emotional regulation…counteracts the painful feeling of being shunned,” comments Dr Jaak Panksepp of Bowling Green State University in Ohio in an accompanying article.

It is thought that continuing this research may even one day explain the physical pain associated with a broken heart. Too bad there isn't something you can take to cure a broken heart like you can physical pain with Tylenol. Oh wait.. I think it is called an anti-depressant. (Hehe. Joke)
Hope this was a fun little snip of information for all of you broken hearts out there!


  1. Nice solution to a broken heart ha ha

  2. I was always wondering why a heart actually hurts when we faced to something sad. Maybe our brains are misunderstanding our mental pain as physical pain?

  3. I was totally going to say anti-depressant before you suggested it. Looks like this case needs some CNS suppression. But doesn't it also make sense that anti-depressants can get rid of physical pain as well? Wouldn't they also suppress the brain stimulation provided by pain receptors? I think I may look into this...

  4. If I understand correctly, depression can cause physical pain. You have seen the commercial for antidepressants that is like "who does depression hurt? everyone. where does depression hurt? everywhere" Well one of the symptoms of depression is physical pain. So I think if you have body pain due to depression, then wouldn't curing depression with an antidepressant help alleviate they symptom of physical pain from it?