Thursday, June 26, 2008

Grief and the brain

Everyone experiences grief at some point in their life. Most people move on and accept the loss but for a substantial minority - those suffering from complicated grief - it is impossible to let go, and, even years later any reminder of their loss (such as a picture or a memory) brings on a fresh wave of grief and yearning. Complicated grief can be debilitating involving recurrent pangs of painful emotions, intense yearning, longing and searching for the deceased and a preoccupation with thoughts of the loved one. A team of researchers at UCLA, U.S. examined what goes on in the brain when we experience grief by showing 23 participants - 11 of whom had complicated grief - photographs of dead loved ones while they underwent an MRI scan. All the groups showed increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, areas of the brain implicated in perceptions of pain. However, those women suffering from complicated grief also experienced increased activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain most commonly associated with reward and one that has also been shown to play a role in social attachment such as sibling and maternal affiliation.

You can find out more about this research at

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