While previous research has revealed our brains release pain-killing opioids when the body experiences physical harm, new research within the journal Molecular Psychiatry has revealed that this system is also activated by social pain.

The study researchers also learned that those who score at the top of a personality attribute called resilience, or even the capacity to deal with environmental change, showed the highest level of natural painkiller activation.

“This is actually the first study to peer into the mind to exhibit that the opioid system is activated during social rejection,” said study author David T. Hsu, a helper professor of psychiatry in the University of Michigan. “In general, opioids happen to be considered to be released during social distress and isolation in animals, but where this occurs within the human brain is not shown until now.”

In the study, 18 adult participants were inspired to take a look at pictures and fabricated personal profiles of countless other adults. In an attempt to simulate a web-based dating environment, each volunteer selected some profiles they might be most interested in romantically.

Next, the participants were advised to lay down inside a brain imaging machine called a PET scanner, where they were eventually told that the individuals they has chosen weren\’t interested in them.

Brain scans taken during these moments of rejection showed opioid release in the participants\’ brains. The phenomenon was the most prevalent in the brain regions that are known to be involved in physical pain.

While the participants were advised in advance the “dating” profiles weren\’t real, the simulated rejection was enough to stimulate a psychological and opioid response.

According to Hsu, the personality of each participant appeared to play a role in the person response of their own opioid system.

“Individuals who scored high for that resiliency trait on the personality questionnaire tended to be capable of more opioid release during social rejection, especially in the amygdala,” the emotion-processing region of the brain, Hsu said. “This means that opioid release within this structure during social rejection might be protective or adaptive.”

The more opioid release seen in a brain area called the pregenual cingulate cortex, the less the volunteers reported being upset by the news of rejection, the researchers noted.

The scientists also checked out what goes on once the volunteers were told that one of the \’people\’ behind an account they had selected had also reciprocated interest in them. In this type of social acceptance, some brain regions showed more opioid release.

“The opioid product is known to lead to both reducing pain and promoting pleasure, and our study implies that additionally, it performs this within the social environment,” Hsu explained.

The study researchers noted that their findings could be significant for people who be depressed or social anxiety and also require an irregular opioid response to the kinds of social situations examined within the study.

“It\’s possible those with depression or social anxiety are less capable of releasing opioids during periods of social distress, and therefore do not recover as quickly or fully from the negative social experience,\” Hsu said. \”Similarly, these people could also have less opioid release during positive social interactions, and for that reason might not gain just as much from social support.\”

He added the understanding of chemical mechanisms behind social interactions could help many people understand their responses to particular social situations.

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