Science Knows Exactly What Type Of Breakup Hurts Most


Dami Olonisakin

Editorial Assistant


Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

Think back to your first breakup that really hurt. Do you remember thinking you’ll never get over it? The pain was unbearable? You didn’t eat, and sleep hardly existed anymore.

What some people experienced might have been more difficult to cope with, especially if they were ditched for another person. This is because science has now delved into what type of breakup hurts most.


A new study from Cornell University, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, shares that the most hurtful breakup is being dumped for someone else, otherwise known as “comparative rejection”. Their results highlight that comparative rejection feels a lot worse than noncomparative rejection, because “such rejections lead to an increased sense of exclusion and decreased belonging."

The study involved 600 people who participated in four different types of experiments. The first experiment included two women who were secretly working with the scientists and a man who was not.

Here’s the interesting part. To find out how the man felt about rejection, the scientists handed one woman a puzzle to solve and she was given the choice to either work with the other woman, the man, or alone. She only ever chose to work with the other woman or on her own, excluding the man.

The other experiments carried out were in bigger groups, where people expressed a time in their lives when they had felt rejected.


Both studies revealed that people felt rejection more acutely when someone else was picked over them than when it was for no one else. This suggests that being left for someone else romantically can be pretty much be an even bigger heartbreak.

Another observation made by the researchers were that, if those who were rejected felt like they weren’t getting answers as to why they were being let go of, they would try to desperately search for an explanation, even if it included a lot of pain. If they couldn't find an answer, they’d assume that someone new was in the picture.

The researchers did offer some advice about rejection, because let’s face it, whether we like it or not, we’re going to face it in different areas of our lives at some point… unless you’re exceedingly amazing at everything, of course.

The scientists explained that it’s a good idea to let the rejectee know if there isn’t anyone else, "as it will make the rejectees feel better.” But what about if there is? What exactly are you supposed to do? The author of the research says "references to other parties chosen over the rejectees should be kept to a minimum.”


  • tag
  • relationships,

  • Breakups,

  • Cornell University,

  • Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin