Being rejected by another person can not only break your heart but also put the brakes on it, a small study conducted in the Netherlands has found.
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University, in a bid to learn how social pain affects people physically, found that social rejection causes one's heart-rate to drop for a moment.
The scientists enrolled 27 healthy students, aged 18-25, in a study which the participants were led to believe was aimed at gauging people's first impressions of someone else.
The students were asked to send the researchers a photograph of themselves, which would be sent to another university where students the same age as the study participants would look at the photos and decide whether they liked the person or not.
Experiment takes a turn
But that was just a cover for the real experiment.
After sending in their photos, the study participants came to the laboratory, were hooked up to an electrocardiogram, and looked at pictures of students from another university whom they didn't know.
A total of 120 photos of different faces were presented to each study participant, and they were then asked to guess whether the person in the photo said they liked them.
The participants wrote "yes" if they thought they were accepted by the person in the picture or "no" if they expected to be rejected by them, on one side of the photo.
Response randomly generated
They then were given feedback as to how the person in the photo felt about them although it wasn't genuine feedback, but a response generated randomly by a computer for the study.
When the feedback showed that the person in the picture did not like the student sitting in the lab, the study participant's heart-rate slowed momentarily.
The researchers called this slowing a "heartbrake", and noted that it was more pronounced if the student taking part in the study thought the person in the photo would like them.
These findings suggest that social rejection "literally results in bodily responses reflecting social hurt," such as a slower heart-rate, and that rejection doesn't hurt quite as much when it's expected and you've braced for it, the researchers said.
(Sapa, September 2010)