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Women's reactions to a romantic breakup affect the brain. The study found that women who are very upset after breaking up with a romantic partner show brain changes not witnessed in women less upset about a relationship ending.
Particularly, women who reported being distraught about the breakup showed greater decreases in brain activity in brain regions that are connected with emotion, motivation, and attention while thinking about former partners.
The study's findings may shed some light on how the brain processes extreme sadness, and how that sadness can lead to depression, according to lead researcher Jeffrey P. Lorberbaum, MD. Reporting in the American Journal of Psychiatry (December 2004), the researchers suggested that depression may sometimes happen when the brain is unable to handle sadness, separation, or grief.
In an effort to understand how the brain responds to grief, the researchers administered brain scans on 9 women coping with feelings surrounding a breakup that happened within the previous 4 months, involving a romantic relationship that lasted at least 6 months. The investigators documented women's brain activity when they had sad thoughts about their former partner. They compared it with the activity seen when they thought neutral thoughts about a person they had known for the same length of time. All the women reported immediately after the relationship ended that they had experienced some symptoms of depression. Most of the women noted that the symptoms had started to dissipate after 2 weeks.