The Scientific Reason Why Disappointment Hurts So Much

Dacy Knight

Disappointment is an emotion with which many of us may have recently become reacquainted. If you had expectations of celebrating the election of the first female president, you're likely currently suffering from what some have coined as the "post-election hangover."

It turns out that that word choice is not entirely off, as science links the overwhelming effects of disappointment with the chemistry of addiction. A recent article by New York Magazine's Science of Us examines disappointment from a scientific angle, saying that the feeling of being let down is "one of life's toughest emotional experiences." 

Just as dopamine, "the brain's 'pleasure' chemical," influences addicts to pursue rewarding experiences via drugs, the same system is at play with motivational actions whether you have an addiction or not. If your brain expects a certain rewarding outcome, your dopamine levels spike. If it is not achieved, your dopamine levels go back down. Coined as a "reward prediction error" by scientists, this process is what makes disappointment all the more unbearable.

Surprised by these findings? Sound off about how you find the strength to overcome disappointment in the comments.

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