Our brain releases painkillers when we’re rejected

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

black sheep
Awww this poor sheeps looks like an outsider. I bet he has all kinds of opioids flowing through his body.

The popular saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is usually taught to young children to teach them how to stay strong when others say mean things. Essentially, it’s saying that as long as a person is not physically injuring you, there is no way you can be harmed. However, researchers from the University of Michigan find that tauntings do sting a little, but the brain is there to kiss the pain away!

Of course, not literally, because brains don’t have lips after all. However, our ol’ noggins do have a special chemical known as “opioid.” Usually, when our bodies get injured, the brain releases this chemical to kind of dull the pain so it doesn’t hurt as bad. Apparently, it also sends out opioids when we’re socially rejected!

In their study, the Michigan researchers had volunteers go through fake personal profiles and select ones they felt would be interested in going out with them, kind of like an online dating site. Then the researchers place the volunteers in a PET scanner – a machine that images out the brain – and told the participants that person didn’t want to go on a date (how sad!). Guess what happened?

There was a surge of opioids released into the body even though there wasn’t a physical injury, as if the body was curing those rejection blues! “This is the first study to peer into the human brain to show that the opioid system is activated during social rejection,” said David T. Hsu, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of psychiatry. “In general, opioids have been known to be released during social distress and isolation in animals, but where this occurs in the human brain has not been shown until now.”

You want to know what’s really crazy though? The same exact surge happened when the person was socially accepted as well! That is, opioids were released when researchers told participants the person they were interested in wanted to go out. Hey, what’s the deal there? “The opioid system is known to play a role in both reducing pain and promoting pleasure, and our study shows that it also does this in the social environment,” says Hsu.

The scientists hope to use the information to treat individuals who suffer from depression.

Featured image courtesy of Zalouk Webdesign on Wikimedia. Image of black sheep courtesy of Jesus Solana on Wikipedia.