Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain

Psychol Bull. 2005 Mar;131(2):202-23. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.2.202.


The authors forward the hypothesis that social exclusion is experienced as painful because reactions to rejection are mediated by aspects of the physical pain system. The authors begin by presenting the theory that overlap between social and physical pain was an evolutionary development to aid social animals in responding to threats to inclusion. The authors then review evidence showing that humans demonstrate convergence between the 2 types of pain in thought, emotion, and behavior, and demonstrate, primarily through nonhuman animal research, that social and physical pain share common physiological mechanisms. Finally, the authors explore the implications of social pain theory for rejection-elicited aggression and physical pain disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gyrus Cinguli / metabolism
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Narcotics / metabolism
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Social Alienation*


  • Narcotics
  • Oxytocin