Thursday, September 30, 2010

Social Rejection Really Does "Brake" Your Heart

A fascinating study reported in the Journal of Psychological Science was completed in the Netherlands on social experiences and their effect on the heart. Participant's vital signs and heart rate were closely monitored throughout a period of socially emotional experiences. Participants were asked to look at a number of pictures of people they did not know and asked to predict whether or not the participant thought that each individual in the picture liked them or did not like them. The participants were then given feedback about whether the person they viewed accepted or rejected them. Heart rate and responses were closely monitored.
What is fascinating is that the participant's heart rate notably slowed when unexpected social rejection was observed, and significant delay in return to normal heart rate was also observed.
What does this all mean?
It means that experiences of social rejection have significant physical effects upon the heart and other vital organs of the body. There is a strong chemical signal from the brain on the parasympatheic nervous system slowing the heart rate when emotional rejection is experienced. The study noted that repeated episodes of rejection further lowered the rate and suppressed the time of recovery from that lowered rate even longer. This explains repeated rejection's physical symptoms and many of the physical symptoms that I often see in patient's suffering from emotional abuse. This explains the physical changes associated with depression and anxiety.
This may also be why hobbies or experiences that lend positive influence on our emotions lend to our overall physical health.

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