You Can Force Yourself to Fall Out of Love
Lessons from neuroscience about easing the pain of a breakup
Last month, an NPR story detailed rapper Dessa’s efforts to get over her ex — using science. Inspired by a TED Talk from biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Dessa told NPR, she used a technique called neurofeedback, which measures brain waves using electroencephalography (EEG) and turns them into visual or audio tones. The idea is that by seeing or hearing what’s happening in your brain, you can retrain your thoughts. In the context of breakups, by heading off constant thoughts about an ex, you could ostensibly speed up the process of getting over them.
Over the past several years, clinics offering neurofeedback for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and a host of other complaints have popped up all over the country. And especially with regard to heartbreak, it’s easy to see the appeal — when you feel powerless against your own emotions, it’s soothing to think that there’s a process, with science behind it, that can help you regain control. Still, though Dessa told NPR she felt better after the therapy, there’s not a ton of research about the effectiveness of neurofeedback, and none about using it specifically for breakups.
But according to Fisher, chief scientific officer for the dating site Match and author of Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, the idea does make some scientific sense. At the very least, there are lessons to be drawn from merging her research on the brain in love with the concepts underlying neurofeedback: Together, the two ideas can offer guidance to the newly single on how to speed up the post-split healing process, no brain-wave equipment required.
To understand how it’s possible to fall out of love more quickly, we first need to understand what a brain in love looks like. In the studies outlined in her TED Talk, one of which was published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, Fisher placed people — 17 who were in new relationships, 15 who had recently faced romantic rejection — in a functional MRI (fMRI) to actually look at the neurological processes of falling in and out of love.
When Fisher showed still-lovestruck people in the fMRI photos of their significant others…