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* Greater Good Research Digests offer short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.


Does Heartbreak Really Hurt?

"Broken Hearts and Broken Bones: A Neural Perspective on the Similarities Between Social and Physical Pain"

Eisenberger, N. I. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 21 (41), February 2012, 42-47.

It seems that a broken heart might hurt like a broken bone. This study suggests that sensations of physical and social pain involve the same regions of the brain. UCLA psychology professor Naomi Eisenberger reviewed over 20 experiments that examined the brain circuitry of people undergoing physical pain or the pain of social rejection or loss. Taken together, the results offer strong evidence that the two different types of pain share the same neural components. Eisenberger offers an evolutionary explanation for why humans have developed these painful social mechanisms: They give us an incentive to maintain social bonds, which are necessary for survival. —Brylyn Stacy

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Why Facebook Might Hurt People with Low Self-Esteem

"When Social Networking Is Not Working: Individuals with Low Self-Esteem Recognize but Do Not Reap the Benefits of Self-Disclosure on Facebook"

Forest, A.L. & Wood, J.V. Psychological Science, published online February 2012.

Facebook has been touted as a blessing for people who struggle to form face-to-face social connections, such as those who lack self-esteem and fear the judgments of others. There’s some logic to this: Facebook encourages people to reveal details about themselves, and research has found that this kind of “self-disclosure” is important to close, satisfying relationships.

But this study casts doubt on Facebook’s benefits for the self-conscious. The study found that while users with low self-esteem updated their status as much as other users, they tended to post more negative status updates than high-self esteem users. As a result, they received fewer “likes,” which might make them feel even worse about themselves. In other words, Facebook’s effects on low self-esteem users may be the very opposite of what they were seeking in the first place. There was a silver lining: The researchers found that friends “liked” low self-esteem users’ statuses more often when they were positive, perhaps encouraging them to focus more on the positive events in their lives. —Bernie Wong

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