Can ‘Placebo Thinking’ Cure a Broken Heart?


A little hope for the hopeless.

Woman is distress with hands covering her face

Binge-watching romantic films in your designated house sweater, eating your weight in sugary treats, or bellowing a classic ballad as you stalk your ex on social media are just a few common reactions that follow a break-up. And it’s an experience very few of us go through unscathed. The painful, heart-wrenching pang of rejection is its own kind of torture, and, apparently, there’s a scientific reason for it. According to psychologist Guy Winch, research suggests that the same part of our brain is activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.

Read More: How Grief Inspired Me To Start My Own Business

But according to new research, there’s a faster way to get over your break-up – sans questionable haircut – by giving yourself a mental placebo. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder studied the effect of placebos on 40 participants who had gone through an “unwanted romantic breakup” within the past six months. During the process, participants were given a nasal spray, half of them believing it had the ability to minimise emotional pain, and the other half told it was a saline solution. Results later showed that those in the placebo group seemingly had less pain and felt better emotionally when they saw a picture of their ex.

The conclusion? According to Leonie Koban, an author in the study: “Just the fact that you are doing something for yourself and engaging in something that gives you hope may have an impact.” Also adding, “Doing anything that you believe will help you feel better will probably help you feel better.”

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And though the study directly pointed to a broken heart courtesy of a romantic relationship, the same tactic could be used to tackle rejection of the professional or friendship kind. Actually doing something you feel is productive – a late night living-room rave, a meditation session, or a daily dose of ice-cream – could be the key to stitching the pieces back together.


Nicole Webb

Staff Writer Collective Hub

Nicole is a Sydney based writer, who’s previously written for Harper’s Bazaar and Elle Australia. She has mused about everything from the world of haute couture, the Sydney music scene and newly founded start-ups.


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