Rejection Feels Like Spilling Hot Coffee on Your Arm, Says Science


Rejection hurts. Before you groan and sign and say “I know, I know, let me tell you about the time you-know-who did you-know-what to me,” let us clarify. Rejection actually physically hurts. Like dropping something on your toe or getting lemon juice in a papercut hurts. This is true, according to science, and according to the New York Times, which reports on how badly rejection hurts, and how science knows this.

According to a recent study, areas of the brain that indicate physical pain area activated “at moments of intense social loss.” In terms of the actual study, 40 volunteers (who all felt “intensely rejected” due to a recent breakup), were hooked up to MRI scanners to measure their brain activity while they looked at photos of former boyfriends/girlfriends and thought about exactly how they’d been rejected. (Man, science is mean.) Then they were asked to look at a picture of a friend and think of a good experience with that person.

After all that, they “experienced noxious thermal stimulation on their left forearms,” which basically means it feels like they spilled hot coffee on themselves. Then they received “nonnoxious” stimulation, which feels, probably, like a nice warm bath, or at least not as noxious as hot coffee.

The horrible rejection feelings and the horrible spilling of hot coffee on one’s own arm feelings LOOKED THE SAME ON THE MRI MACHINES.

Scientists don’t really know what part of the body feels this physical rejection pain, nor what, exactly, might be done with this knowledge, but if spilling coffee on your arm is a way to avoid the pain of rejection, maybe we should all be going on more coffee runs, and drinking as haphazardly as possible. Research remains to be done regarding what happens to your relationship when you spill coffee on your arm because you’re just kind of a klutz.

This is also why it’s totally cool to call in “second-degree burns” after a breakup.

Rejection May Hurt More Than Feelings [NYT]