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Don't break my heart

Love hurts - and now there's the science to prove it.

Love does hurt. Whoever says that it doesn't needs to read a new study by scientists in the United States, who have finally confirmed that heartache has the same effect as physical pain.

According to this month's journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the neural networks that are activated by physical pain when you are burnt by a cup of coffee, for instance, are the same ones that light up when you are separated from a loved one.

The scientist Ethan Kross, a researcher and a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, says: "What's exciting about these findings is that they outline the direct way in which emotional experiences can be linked to the body."

Though researchers concentrated on romantic love in the study, it's not hard to imagine the link that might be made between other types of emotional pain and physical hurt: verbal abuse, a traumatic fight or even a strict dressing down from an irritated boss all have the potential to light up the brain's pain centres.

Indeed, such studies have helped doctors who are treating patients with chronic illnesses understand how past traumas may be affecting their long-term health.

Nursery rhymes may soon have to update their verses. Sticks and stones may break bones, but it turns out that words can hurt just as deeply.

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