Tylenol can reduce your empathy for others
Many Americans rely on acetaminophen to find relief from their everyday aches and pains (although there are better alternatives). But, there is new research showing that the drug might come with a very unexpected side effect; while the drugs are allowing you to dull your pain, you may also be dulling your sense of empathy.
For the study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers conducted two experiments:
- The first involved 80 college students, half of whom took acetaminophen at the beginning of the study while the other half took a placebo. The students then read eight short scenarios about people who were experiencing either physical or emotional pain and were asked to rate the suffering of each person on a scale of 1 to 5. Overall, the participants who took acetaminophen rated each subject as experiencing less relative pain than the people who did not.
- The second experiment involved 114 college students, half of whom took acetaminophen and half took a placebo. In one part of this experiment, they were subjected to blasts of white noise that ranged from 75 to 105 decibels and asked to rate them on a scale of unpleasantness from 1 to 10. They also had to rate how much pain those noise blasts would cause another person.
In both of those studies, the “pain killers” dulled more than just the pain. “Simulation theories of empathy hypothesize that empathizing with others’ pain shares some overlapping psychological computations with the processing of one’s own pain,” the researchers explain in the abstract. That is, it may be more difficult to imagine someone else’s pain if you can’t feel your own. But, Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and current post doctorate fellow at the National Institutes of Health also thinks that pain itself may decrease empathy, too. The findings are interesting but more research needs to be done.
According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, approximately 23 percent of American adults use a medicine containing acetaminophen each week. That’s a lot of potentially emotionally-dull people walking around, trying to sympathize with others.
Source: CBS NEWS