For many of us, coping with getting dumped means chopping off our hair, spending days in bed watching movies about natural disasters, and telling anyone who will listen that we don’t even need sex anymore — it’s fine. But a recent study found that when it comes to getting over a broken heart, the key to moving on might just be simpler: All we need to do is trick ourselves into thinking we’re over it.
A team of University of Colorado Boulder researchers looked at the neurological and behavioral effect that placebos had on people who had gone through an “unwanted romantic breakup” within the past six months. Each of the 40 participants in the (small) study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, brought a picture of their ex and a picture of a good friend of the same gender to a brain-imaging lab, where they were subjected to a hot stimulus on their left forearm, forced to look at the pictures, and asked to recall their breakup. (Yikes?)
During the process, the participants took a brief break to be given a nasal spray. Half were told it was a “powerful analgesic effective in reducing emotional pain,” while the other half was told it was just saline solution. The participants then went back into the brain-imaging machine. Those in the placebo group were found to feel less pain and feel better emotionally, and their brain responded differently when they saw the picture of their ex.
“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.”
So when it comes to trying to get over our broken hearts, rather than merely staying up all night stalking our ex’s co-workers on social media, the study suggests it might be a good idea to do something that might actually make us think we’re moving on … even if we really aren’t.