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Psychol Sci. 2010 Sep;21(9):1326-33. doi: 10.1177/0956797610379236. Epub 2010 Aug 9.

The heartbrake of social rejection: heart rate deceleration in response to unexpected peer rejection.

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Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Social relationships are vitally important in human life. Social rejection in particular has been conceptualized as a potent social cue resulting in feelings of hurt. Our study investigated the psychophysiological manifestation of hurt feelings by examining the beat-by-beat heart rate response associated with the processing of social rejection. Study participants were presented with a series of unfamiliar faces and were asked to predict whether they would be liked by the other person. Following each judgment, participants were provided with feedback indicating that the person they had viewed had either accepted or rejected them. Feedback was associated with transient heart rate slowing and a return to baseline that was considerably delayed in response to unexpected social rejection. Our results reveal that the processing of unexpected social rejection is associated with a sizable response of the parasympathetic nervous system. These findings are interpreted in terms of a cardiovagal manifestation of a neural mechanism implicated in the central control of autonomic function during cognitive processes and affective regulation.

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