August 23, 2009
Pain Gene Variant Increases Social Rejection Pain

If someone rejects you and you feel pain rather than blame them you should blame your mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1).

UCLA psychologists have determined for the first time that a gene linked with physical pain sensitivity is associated with social pain sensitivity as well.
Their study indicates that variation in the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1), often associated with physical pain, is related to how much social pain a person feels in response to social rejection. People with a rare form of the gene are more sensitive to rejection and experience more brain evidence of distress in response to rejection than those with the more common form.
The research was published Aug. 14 in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will appear in the print version in the coming weeks.
The findings give weight to the common notion that rejection "hurts" by showing that a gene regulating the body's most potent painkillers — mu-opioids — is involved in socially painful experiences too, said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, UCLA assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA's Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory.

Crushes and love gone bad can leave you hurt and rejected. Suppose you got the painful version of OPRM1. Swear off relationship entanglements and socializing to avoid running the risk of social pain? Or risk suffering in a quest for happiness and bliss in the perfect relationship?

Suppose you are a player Better to surreptitiously get a saliva or tissue sample from a new flame to genetically test. Then you can find out if they will take it poorly if you do not intend a permanent relationship.

In the study, researchers collected saliva samples from 122 participants to assess which form of the OPRM1 gene they had and then measured sensitivity to rejection in two ways. First, participants completed a survey that measured their self-reported sensitivity to rejection. They were asked, for example, how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like "I am very sensitive to any signs that a person might not want to talk to me."
Next, a subset of this group, 31 participants, was studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at UCLA's Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center during a virtual ball-tossing game in which participants were ultimately socially excluded. Subjects were told that they would be connected over the Internet with two other players who were also in fMRI scanners and that they would all be playing the interactive ball-tossing game. In reality, however, participants were playing with a preset computer program, not other people. Initially, participants were included in the activity but were then excluded when the two other "players" stopped throwing the ball to them.
"What we found is that individuals with the rare form of the OPRM1 gene, who were shown in previous work to be more sensitive to physical pain, also reported higher levels of rejection sensitivity and showed greater activity in social pain–related regions of the brain — the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula — in response to being excluded," Eisenberger said.

I'm thinking that male pick-up artists will some day use genetic samples taken from their targets to figure out how best to play each woman. Will she be overly sensitive to being teased? Or will merciless teasing go over well? It is all in the genes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 23 02:00 PM  Brain Pain

Mthson said at August 23, 2009 3:45 PM:

I always find Roissy entertaining. He has some interesting points that I respect, but he seems unaware that every time he successfully copulates with some irrational airhead he's been "cultivating," he's just fallen prey to the most meaningless aspects of our evolved heritage / instinctual neural circuits. Surely he could find a better use for his intelligence.

Sebastian Flyte said at August 24, 2009 3:28 AM:

Does this mean that red-heads are likely to take rejection worse than others?

Lono said at August 24, 2009 9:09 AM:


I couldn't agree more - what an unbearable lightness of being!


From my experience with Red Headed Women - (including my wife) - I would say Yes!


Randall Parker said at August 24, 2009 5:39 PM:


Great question. I'd like to see this same experiment above repeated with women of different color hair.

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