Relationships change. Sometimes they evolve into something that lasts forever, and usually, they don’t. Most of us date prior to marriage, going through a string of relationships prior to meeting “the one.” And sadly, it’s not uncommon that “the one” becomes an ex-spouse.
Researchers who have taken pictures of the brain in people who have just gone through a break-up show changes in the ventral tegmental area, ventral pallidum, and putamen, all of which are involved when a reward is uncertain. While this might be reading too much into the study, uncertainty is certainly common after a break-up. Areas in the orbitofrontal cortex involved with obsessive-compulsive behaviors and in anger control also light up initially, though this extra activity may fade over time. In 2011, researchers published functional MRI findings suggesting that the brain does not distinguish between the pain of social rejection and the pain of physical injury, though these results and methods have been called into question. Not surprisingly, changes in other neural networks involved with major depression have also been seen after a break-up.