Science can cure heartbreak in voles, but what about in humans?
You can learn a lot about love and heartbreak from voles. They look a bit like a cross between a mouse and a hamster. And they’re monogamous. Most animals are not.
“In mammals, only about 5% of species formed these long-term bonds,” said Larry Young, an Emory University researcher. “It’s kind of rare.”
Young has studied voles in the lab to understand the neurobiology behind social behavior. Voles have something like love, and it’s very cute.
Other animals experience the addiction, the drive of bonding, while humans make it into what Young calls love by applying meaning to it. And we apply meaning to heartbreak, too.
“We are uniquely equipped to replay and ruminate on negative feelings over and over and over again,” said Ethan Kross, who runs the Emotion and Self Control Lab at the University of Michigan.
“This process of turning over in your mind over and over and over again, that negative experience, that can become a toxic process,” he said.
Rumination has real health impacts — everything from cardiovascular health to aging — because it’s essentially chronic stress.
“This really is how stress gets under the skin and hurts us,” Kross said. “A stress reaction isn’t bad per se, it’s when we are experiencing stress chronically over and over and over and over again.”
Over the years, Kross and his lab has found a few ways to make it hurt less. Up first, there’s mental time travel.
“So, telling people to imagine how they would feel in a year from now rather than think about how they feel right now,” Kross said. “That in itself is a little mental hack, if you will, psychological hack that can help improve the way people feel. It’s called temporal distancing.”
Another strategy is to talk about the breakup like it’s happening to someone else, not you. Which kind of makes sense: Other people’s breakups always seem kind of melodramatic. Kross said it’s easy to think that way when it’s not your breakup — you didn’t suffer what he calls the emotional assault.
“When we experienced those kinds of traumas or assaults — and assault isn’t a bad way to think about it, an emotional assault — our attention narrows. So we devote our resources on a problem,” Kross said. “Just like if we were going to battle and someone attacked us, we would devote all of our forces towards warding off that attack. Our attention zooms in, narrows on that experience.”
You get stuck in this attacked experience — Kross calls it immersion. So you can’t see, for instance, that’s there are plenty of fish in the sea.
He hopes his research helps shift how we think about social pain like heartbreak.
Read the full article at Whyy.