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Romantic Rejection

Fisher has also investigated the affects of being rejected by a lover.  Lewis and colleagues propose that a rejected lover goes through two phases after being rejected: protest, followed by resignation/despair. 

Protest Phase

Fisher investigated individuals who had recently been rejected by a lover.  One might expect the brain to reduce levels of dopamine release in order to help the lover to experience less romantic feelings towards her partner who has rejected her.  However the opposite occurs: dopamine levels increase.  Rejected lovers are therefore likely to actually begin to experience heightened feelings of love towards their partner.  This appears to be a maladaptive response.  However, the focused attention and goal oriented behaviour associated with increased levels of dopamine release, stimulate a rejected lover’s energies towards attempting to win back her recently lost lover. 

Strangely, alongside experiencing heightened attraction, the rejected lover also appears to experience abandonment rage.  Animal studies have indicated that the reward and rage systems are closely linked.  This is why if you pet a cat it will enjoy your attention but sometimes it may bite you if you attempt to withdraw your attention.  This is known as ‘frustration aggression’.  It appears that rejected lovers can be furious with their ex-lover, at the same time as experiencing strong love for their rejecting partner.  Rage and love also exhibit a number of similar qualities including focused attention, intense emotion, longing, obsessive thinking, and motivation towards a goal.  Fisher suggests that hate might not be the opposite of love: she suggests that indifference is perhaps the more appropriate choice of word as the opposite of love.  Abandonment rage also appears to be maladaptive: it suppresses the immune system, raises blood pressure, and puts stress on the heart.  Fisher suggests abandonment rage may have evolved to motivate a rejected lover to move on from a finished relationship. 


Fisher suggests that the second phase after romantic rejection may be associated with a reduction in dopamine activity in the brain, and she gives some evidence to support this proposal, including reference to a study of women who had experienced a romantic break-up who showed a decrease in activity in the dorsal caudate, a region of the brain where many dopamine receptor sites are located.  Long-term stress also causes reduction in the activity of dopamine and other monoamines.  This results in depression, lethargy and despondency, which are traits demonstrated by many lovers who have resigned themselves to the loss of a their ex-lover.  A recent neuroimaging study showed that social exclusion affects some of the same parts of the brain that become active when we experience physical pain.  Some rejected lovers even die from a stroke or heart attack. 

Is Love an Addiction?

Psychologists have for a long time regarded love as an addiction, since it is associated with many of the same qualities as addictive behaviour including lack of self-control, physical and emotional dependence, craving, focussed attention, euphoria, withdrawal symptoms, relapse, compulsive behaviours, personality alterations, inappropriate and sometimes even dangerous behaviour and distortion of one’s perception of reality.  Those who are enjoying a love relationship also show activity in the brain associated with the ‘rush’ of cocaine and rejected lovers show activity in the brain associated with people who gamble and risk big gains and losses.