When speaking of emotional pain, we often use the language of physical pain. “Burned” by a friend, “crushed” by a family member, or “heartbroken” over a lover—we all talk this way, and researchers are now finding that we have every right to do so. What they’ve found is that the same part of our brain that processes physical pain also processes emotional pain—in fact, our brain may scarcely make a distinction between the two. One recent study among many now coming out found that acetaminophen actually made study participants less sensitive to social rejection. But hurt feelings, researchers suspect, may hurt for a good reason. They may motivate us to get up and get back into the game—make up with an estranged lover, reconcile with an aggrieved family member, find a new friend. What does this tell us about how to treat emotional pain? Do we take it more seriously, or less seriously? Is Tylenol all we really need?
Geoff MacDonald, PhD, associate professor of Psychology, University of Toronto
C. Nathan DeWall, assistant professor of psychology, University of Kentucky