Craving love? Enduring grief activates brain's reward center

Mary Frances O'Connor, David K. Wellisch, Annette L. Stanton, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Michael R. Irwin, Matthew D. Lieberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

151 Scopus citations

Abstract

Complicated Grief (CG) occurs when an individual experiences prolonged, unabated grief. The neural mechanisms distinguishing CG from Noncomplicated Grief (NCG) are unclear, but hypothesized mechanisms include both pain-related activity (related to the social pain of loss) and reward-related activity (related to attachment behavior). Bereaved women (11 CG, 12 NCG) participated in an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, during grief elicitation with idiographic stimuli. Analyses revealed that whereas both CG and NCG participants showed pain-related neural activity in response to reminders of the deceased, only those with CG showed reward-related activity in the nucleus accumbens (NA). This NA cluster was positively correlated with self-reported yearning, but not with time since death, participant age, or positive/negative affect. This study supports the hypothesis that attachment activates reward pathways. For those with CG, reminders of the deceased still activate neural reward activity, which may interfere with adapting to the loss in the present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)969-972
Number of pages4
JournalNeuroImage
Volume42
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 15 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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    O'Connor, M. F., Wellisch, D. K., Stanton, A. L., Eisenberger, N. I., Irwin, M. R., & Lieberman, M. D. (2008). Craving love? Enduring grief activates brain's reward center. NeuroImage, 42(2), 969-972. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.04.256