The Common Painkiller that Kills Empathy

The popular painkiller is available in over 600 drugs that are known to humans; study says it does not only kill pain, but our fellow-feelings.

Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredients which constitutes Tylenol popularly referred to as paracetamol, has been found to reduce empathy in those who take it. A new study confirms its ability to relate to the physical and social pains experienced by others; it reduces people’s feeling for the pain of others.

“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen, Dr Dominik Mischkowski, the study’s first author, said.”

“Acetaminophen can reduce empathy as well as serve as a painkiller.”

23% of Americans (estimated to be 52 Million people) is said to be consuming drugs having this popular painkiller. An earlier study by the research team also found that Acetaminophen can reduce positive feelings of those taking it.

Dr Baldwin Way, a study co-author, said:

“We don’t know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning. Empathy is important.

If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”

A research team from Ohio state University carried out the research on 80 college students, who were split into two groups. Half of them were given 1,000 mg of acetaminophen, and the other half a placebo.

A couple of tests was also carried out by the researchers to test the student’s empathy for physical and social pain. Such as having them to read and rate 8 stories in which someone suffered some kind of pain.

The results showed that students who took the drug rated pains lower than those who didn’t.

Another test was for the students to watch situations where people were socially ostracized.

“In this case, the participants had the chance to empathize with the suffering of someone who they thought was going through a socially painful experience,” explained Dr Way. “Still, those who took acetaminophen showed a reduction in empathy. They weren’t as concerned about the rejected person’s hurt feelings.”

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Interestingly, the researchers are making a move toward Ibuprofen to see if similar findings can be seen.

Dominik Mischkowski, Jennifer Crocker, Baldwin M. Way. From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain : Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2016) doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw057 – May 5, 2016.

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