BOULDER, Colo. — When you have a bad breakup, simply believing you’re a painkiller can lessen your pain, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Researchers recruited 40 volunteers who had experienced an “unwanted romantic break up” in the past six months.
Half the participants got a placebo — a nasal spray they were told had a powerful painkiller that would also reduce their emotional pain and suffering.
The other half were told the spray was saline and that it would have no effect on pain.
While inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine, the subjects were shown images of their exes and were asked to recall the breakup.
They were also subjected to physical pain — a hot stimulus on their left forearm. The regions that lit up during physical and emotional pain were similar.
After getting the nasal spray, the subjects who thought it was a painkiller felt less pain and had significant changes to their brain images, while the subjects who thought the spray was saline did not.
“The control group, we didn’t see a decrease in the intensity of the social pain. However, in the placebo group we found a very strong decrease in the intensity of the social pain,” said Leonie Koban, the lead author of the study.
“So I think it shows that the brain reacts very strongly to suggestions and to social information and to expectations in general.”
Koban said the placebo group not only felt less physical pain and felt better emotionally, but their brains responded differently when shown pictures of their exes.
Researchers suspect the placebo prompted the release of chemicals like dopamine.