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Science & Environment

Scientists Weigh In On What Can Mend A Broken Heart

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, here's a fun topic to cover post-Valentine's Day - breakups. When they happen, you might be tempted to hide with ice cream and bad movies, but scientific research suggests that is not the best idea. Maanvi Singh reports.

MAAVI SINGH, BYLINE: My boyfriend and I were together for over three and a half years, and then we weren't. The days after the breakup involved lots of crying and an embarrassing amount of Taylor Swift. Eventually, once I was able to will myself out of sweat pants, I went over to my friend Eric's house to commiserate. He was coping with a breakup as well.

ERIC: Just recently, in the past couple weeks, I wake up at like 4 a.m. or something like that, and I kind of just lay awake for a few hours. And it's agonizing, and, God, that sounds so dramatic. (Laughter).

SINGH: I worried that talking about it would bring Eric down, but it didn't.

ERIC: It feels good to commiserate.

SINGH: Turns out we were onto something. Recently, an intriguing bit of research found that regularly reflecting on a breakup can really help.

GRACE LARSON: Let yourself think about the breakup rather than ignoring it or suppressing it.

SINGH: That's Grace Larson, a graduate student in social psychology at Northwestern University. She gathered 200 heartbroken volunteers and asked half to take it easy. The rest were asked to rehash the painful details of their breakups. In the end, those who talked it over felt a stronger sense of self, and, in turn, they felt less lonely.

LARSON: It seems like there's something about being reminded of the breakup, checking in about how you're feeling, or talking about the breakup that can actually help somebody resolve their experience more quickly.

SINGH: Of course the process isn't easy. Another study found that under an MRI scanner, the brains of the heartsick can look a bit like the brains of people experiencing cocaine withdrawal.

LARSON: And it's not just painful, it's disorienting.

SINGH: But chin up, studies also show that people tend to overestimate how long it takes to get over it. I'm Maanvi Singh for NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) But we are never, ever, ever, ever... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.