How many times do you reach for a Tylenol to take the edge off a headache, fever, or toothache? Well, studies show that this pain suppressor might also have another effect on you.
Acetaminophen may also be suppressing your empathy towards others.
Other People’s Pain
Back in 2006, researchers started studying the effects that acetaminophen has on empathy; they studied what volunteers felt for the pain of other people.
Dominik Mischkowski, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, conducted a series of double blind studies. Volunteers were given either sugar pills or Tylenol, but neither the volunteers nor the researchers knew which volunteers were getting which pill.
Mischkowski and his advisers at Ohio State University, Jennifer Crocker and Baldwin Way, played loud noises for the volunteers, exacerbating their level of discomfort.
As expected, the volunteers given Tylenol experienced less physical discomfort than the volunteers given the placebo, but here’s the interesting thing – the researchers also measured the empathy that the volunteers felt for the pain and discomfort of the other volunteers.
The researchers found that the acetaminophen basically reduced empathy for the pain of those other people.
I feel great about myself because I’m in less pain, but the pain reliever also makes me not care if you’re in pain, and the music is blaring.
This research was so enlightening, in 2010, Nathan DeWall at the University of Kentucky and his colleagues also studied Tylenol and empathy loss. They found that volunteers given Tylenol did experience less social pain as well as less physical pain.
What This Means
The scientists determined that when people experience physical pain, like having a hot probe on their arm, and then see someone else experiencing the same pain or similar pain, the same areas in the brain light up.
And thanks to the pain suppresser, this area of the brain is suppressed from functioning – and that means no empathy.
So according to the research, the days of saying “I can feel your pain“ are long gone when taking acetaminophen.
You won’t give a flip about what others are experiencing.
The studies were focused just on Tylenol, but it’s reasonable to speculate that other painkillers can have the same effect in the brain.
People are all different, so individuals will not respond to a drug in the same way; medications have different effects on different people.
Since the overall number of acetaminophen users is very large, it might be a side effect worth thinking about.
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