Tylenol: Substance Inside Drug Can Alter Users’ Ability to Empathize With Others, Study Says


By CBS News

When you take medicine to dull pain, you may also dull your ability to sense pain in others.

According to a new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, acetaminophen, the main ingredient in many common painkillers including Tylenol, inhibits peoples’ capacity to empathize with others’ pain and suffering.

“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.

Researchers conducted two experiments to arrive at this conclusion.

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.

Again, those who had taken acetaminophen suffered less, and they also thought others would suffer less, compared to the guesses of those who took the placebo.

“Pain might actually decrease empathy as well. So, there are other factors that need to be taken into account,” Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and current post doctorate fellow at the National Institutes of Health, told USA Today.

According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, approximately 23 percent of American adults use a medicine containing acetaminophen each week.

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