Hearing a Refusal Hurts Literally

Hearing a refusal makes the brain “hurt”, as scientists have found out. Some people can experience real physical pain, not to mention the stress associated with this experience. It turns out that the signals of moral and physical discomfort are processed in the same brain area.


Do you think the pain from a knife wound is comparable to feelings of anxiety and worry due to failure – for example, a refusal to increase the salary? A study conducted by a biologist and social psychologist from the University of California at Los Angeles Naomi Eisenberger, shows that a person may really experience similar sensations.

Psychologists organized a game experiment, the participants of which were asked to “collaborate” with virtual partners. If they did not succeed, the situation of refusal was modeled so that a volunteer who failed experienced significant psychological distress. However, experts have found that when the volunteers were given an analgesic of Tylenol before the talks, their mental trauma was less pronounced.

According to Naomi Eisenberger, the suffering that a person experiences when he, for example, hears a refusal to touch, has approximately the same nature as a knife cut, because the same part of the brain is involved. The expert points out that parts of the brain causing pain and dissatisfaction with everyday problems have extensive neural connections and actively interact. In general, these processes take place in the front part of the cortex, and partially – in the anterior lobe. As a result, personal troubles are comparable with the pain of physical injury.

It is the hardest to tolerate failure for people sensitive to physical pain – those who have a lowered pain threshold, experts believe. Such people tend to get nervous about the most insignificant occasions and it is extremely difficult for them to tolerate even the smallest trauma. If you are too sensitive to physical pain, you may take an analgesic before a complicated conversation or an important interview. Then you will be able to respond to failures and misunderstandings less emotionally and maintain self-control better. This advice has been published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science journal. However, it is better to learn to cope with stress without painkillers, physicians believe.

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