Doing something — anything — that gives you hope is a great way to get over a romantic break-up, research suggests.
The conclusions come from a study that looked at the placebo effect on emotional pain.
The researchers found that believing something will make us feel better is enough.
When people in the study were given a nasal spray that they were told would diminish their emotional pain, it did, despite actually being a placebo (containing no active drug).
Dr Leonie Koban, the study’s first author, said:
“Breaking up with a partner is one of the most emotionally negative experiences a person can have, and it can be an important trigger for developing psychological problems.
In our study, we found a placebo can have quite strong effects on reducing the intensity of social pain.”
All the people in the study had recently been romantically rejected.
Brain scans showed that pictures of their ex-partners caused the same regions of the brain to activate as when they were in physical pain.
Some were then told that they were being given a painkiller.
This produced painkilling neurotransmitters in the brain, despite being a sham drug.
Professor Tor Wager, a senior author, said:
“The current view is that you have positive expectations and they influence activity in your prefrontal cortex, which in turn influences systems in your midbrain to generate neurochemical opioid or dopamine responses.”
Professor Wager said that doing something for yourself helped produce these changes:
“Just the fact that you are doing something for yourself and engaging in something that gives you hope may have an impact.
In some cases, the actual chemical in the drug may matter less than we once thought.”
Dr Koban said:
“What is becoming more and more clear is that expectations and predictions have a very strong influence on basic experiences, on how we feel and what we perceive.
Doing anything that you believe will help you feel better will probably help you feel better.”
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The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience (Koban et al., 2017).