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Sticks and Stones… 

By  Lysette Offley

Sticks and Stones - photo of gossiping teenagersYou remember the old saying:

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but calling names won’t hurt me.

While now it seems there is evidence to suggest that words can indeed hurt us.

It’s there in our language: my heart broke, heart ache, stabbed in the back, feeling wounded… but perhaps there’s more to this than just metaphorical expressions.

Intrigued by long-term memories people report of the pain of rejection, Naomi Eisenberger at the University of California, Los Angeles, wanted to find out more about the mechanisms in the brain. She discovered that the pain of separation of baby rats from their mother, can be comforted by the same chemical (morphine) that it is used to relieve pain.

She went on to discover from fMRI imaging that rejection activates the same area of the brain as pain – and that the degree to which we find pain upsetting, determines our experience of it.

Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor decided to study the reaction in the brain to a broken heart. Again through the imaging of an fMRI scanner, he was able to see that the pain detectors in the brain responded to both the pain of rejection as well as physical pain.

Further studies have determined that one can exacerbate the other.

Meanwhile, Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, Lexington, has discovered that you can help to alleviate the pain of rejection in the same way that you might set about to relieve the pain of a headache. In other words, with a dose or 2 of paracetamol.

But this has been under medical supervision in laboratory conditions, and you know Paracetamol can be fatal, so don’t try this at home! Not without consulting your physician, anyway.

If words have such a powerful effect on our physiology, then you will realise how important it is to choose the right keywords and images when revising for exams. The more emotionally important and relevant to you, the easier it will be to recall them.

So how will you use this information now to help you create memorable revision notes?

Lysette Offley


With 40 years of experience, Lysette Offley is a Memory and Mindset Coach to women and men at the top of their game in the Financial Services Industry who recognise the value of continual personal and professional development and support to achieve a healthy work-life balance, along with satisfaction and fulfilment.

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