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A form of grief that activates the brain's pleasure center

This is Science Today. It's hard to imagine a form of grief that actually activates pleasure centers in the brain, but that's just what a UCLA study has found. Psychologist Mary-Frances O'Connor explains that a debilitating, chronic form of bereavement called ‘complicated grief' activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain - possibly giving these memories an addictive quality.

O'Connor:      We found this very surprising at first - why would the group whose not adapting well show an area of the brain more active than those who are adapting well in a reward area?

Narrator:        O'Connor says it's because our brains are cued for reward when we see pictures or reminders of the people we love, but when that person dies, our brain has to adapt to this new reality. For those with complicated grief, their brain has not adapted and so they are still experiencing those reward cues.

O'Connor:      That does not mean that they may not be able to receive treatment. We're very interested in how we can treat folks who experience complicated grief because it is so debilitating.

Narrator:        For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.