Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun.
Putting yourself "out there" is hard. Whether it's online dating, applying for a dream job, or reconnecting with a long-lost friend, the fear of rejection is a real concern for all of us. What's the solution? The answer could lie inside our brains. According to a recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry by the University of Michigan Medical School Team, the brain releases the same natural painkillers to combat social rejection as it does when we encounter physical pain.
Eighteen people — while inside a brain-scanning machine — were asked to view 100s of fictitious profiles of adults and rate the ones they would be romantically interested in — similar to the experience of online dating. Inside the machine, they were informed that the people they were interested in didn't like them back. The brains' opioid release (a chemicals release the brain sends out to reduce pain signals) was documented.
Interestingly, the individuals' personalities played a role in the strength of their opioid responses. Dr. David T. Tsu, the lead author on this paper noted, "Individuals who scored high for the resiliency trait on a personality questionnaire tended to be capable of more opioid release during social rejection…This suggests that opioid release in this structure during social rejection may be protective or adaptive.”
These results are only preliminary. But, future research could look into adults suffering from depression to see if their opioid response to social rejection is abnormal. Still, we agree with Tsu, who suggests that there is something rather comforting about our brain's ability to dull our emotional pain. After all, rejection is inevitable, and we're glad it doesn't have to hurt too badly. (University of Michigan Health System)