“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,” study author Leonie Koban said in a statement. “In our study, we found a placebo can have quite strong effects on reducing the intensity of social pain.”
In a small study of 40 volunteers who had experienced an unwanted breakup within six months, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder told participants to bring photos of their exes and photos of a same-sex good friend to their brain imaging lab. After being shown photos of their exes, photos of their friends, and being exposed to actual physical pain, brain scans showed that the brain’s pain center lit up similarly when exposed to physical pain and when shown a photo of their exes. This finding lends credence to the idea that the emotional pain of a breakup is completely scientifically real.
The researchers then gave half of the participants a nasal spray and told them that it “reduced emotional pain.” The others were told it was just a saline solution. For the participants who believed the nasal spray would ease their pain, the painkilling area of their brains lit up when re-exposed to photos of their exes. This, the researchers say, shows that having positive expectations can help one begin to get over a breakup.
Of course, more research is necessary on the subject. But for now, just know that the key to beginning to get over a breakup may be as simple as believing you are over it.
“Just the fact that you are doing something for yourself and engaging in something that gives you hope may have an impact,” study author Leonie Koban said in a statement. “Doing anything that you believe will help you feel better will probably help you feel better.”