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T he aftermath of a breakup can be devastating. Most people emerge from it intact, but research has shown that the end of a romantic relationship can lead to insomnia, intrusive thoughts and even reduced immune function. While in the throes of a breakup, even the most motivated people can have a difficult time determining how best to get on with their lives. Now, in a small new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Generalresearchers tested a variety of cognitive strategies and found one that worked the best for helping people get over a breakup.

The researchers gathered a group of 24 heartbroken people, ageswho had been in a long-term relationship for an average of 2. Some had been dumped, while others had ended their relationship, but all were upset about it—and most still loved their exes. In a series of prompts, they were coached using three cognitive strategies intended to help them move on.

The first strategy was to negatively reappraise their ex. The person was asked to mull over the unfavorable aspects of their lover, like a particularly annoying habit.

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The third strategy was distraction: to think about positive things unrelated to the ex, like a favorite food. Just as distracting oneself can help reduce cravingsit may also help a person overcome the persistent thoughts that come with a breakup. Next, the researchers showed everyone a photo of their ex—a realistic touch, since these often pop up in real life on social media.

They measured the intensity of emotion in response to the photo using electrodes placed on the posterior of the scalp. The EEG reading of the late positive potential LPP is a measure of not only emotion but motivated attention, or to what degree the person is captivated by the photo. In addition, the researchers measured how positive or negative the people felt and how much love they felt for the ex using a scale and questionnaire. However, only people who looked at their lover in a negative light also had a decrease in feelings of love toward their ex. But these people also reported being in a worse mood than when they started—suggesting that these negative thoughts, although helpful for moving on, may be distressing in the short term.

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Distraction, on the other hand, made people feel better overall, but had no effect on how much they still loved their ex-partner. Louis, so the strategy should be used sparingly to boost mood in the short term. Love reappraisal showed no effect on either love or mood, but still dulled the emotional response to the photo. The authors classify love for another person as a learned motivation, similar to thirst or hunger, that pushes a person toward their partner in thought and in behavior. That can in turn elicit different emotions based on the situation.

When love is reciprocated, one can feel joy, or, in the case of a breakup, persistent love feelings are associated with sadness and difficulty recovering an independent sense of self. Classifying love as a motivation is controversial in the field; other experts believe that love is an emotion, like anger, or a script, like riding a bike.

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However, the endurance of love feelings which last much longer than a typical bout of anger or joythe complexity of these feelings both positive and negative and the intensity of infatuation all al a motivation, the authors write. To get over a breakup, heartbroken people change their way of thinking, which takes time. Writing a list of as many negative things about your ex as you can think of once a day until you feel better may be effective, she says.

Though this exercise tends to make people feel worse, Langeslag says that this effect goes away. Her past research found that negative reappraisal also decreased infatuation and attachment to the ex, so it will make you feel better in the long run, she says. The findings are particularly relevant in the age of social media, when photos of exes, and the resulting pangs of love, may come up frequently. at letters time. By Andrew Gregory. Get our Health Newsletter.

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