Natural Painkillers in the Brain Ease Social Rejection
Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute used brain-scanning techniques to track chemical release combined with social rejection testing to look at what is happening in the brain when a person is socially rejected. The study focused on the mu-opioid receptor system in the brain that is thought to not only activate when a person feels physical pain, but social pain as well. It turns out that in either case, the brain releases opioids into the space between neurons to lessen pain signals.
This is the first study of the human brain to find that the opioid system is activated in social rejection experiences and to locate where in the brain this takes place. The study also observed that people with more opioid release in these situations recovered quicker than people who tended to have less opioid release. These findings might lead to new treatments for depression and social anxiety, and also bridge research between treating chronic pain and treating psychiatric disorders.