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Tylenol Is a Major Empathy Killer


tylenol New research shows Tylenol reduces the capacity to feel the physical and emotional pain of others. The finding is significant because empathy affects every area of life, as it is needed for strong marriages, deep friendships and cordial work relationships.

A bottle of Tylenol or the generic version acetaminophen is probably in 99 percent of American homes. People regularly reach for it to get relief from aches and pains. In addition, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, it is an ingredient in more than 600 medicines, including cold and flu preparations. If your relationships are shaky or if your job performance is dependent on being empathetic, you may want to avoid this medication when possible.

Past research reveals the drug blunts the user’s emotions, meaning it reduces feelings of both joy and sadness. Now, the new study shows this effect also dulls the ability to perceive the pain of others. “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,” says senior author Baldwin Way.

Part 1 of the Study

The research, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, consisted of two experiments. In the first, 80 college students were asked to drink a liquid. The drink given to half of the participants contained the equivalent of two extra strength Tylenol capsules, while the drink given to the other half was a placebo. After an hour, the students were required to read eight short stories that involved a character suffering physical or emotional pain such as a knife cut or loss of a loved one. When asked to rate the pain of the character, those who consumed the Tylenol rated the pain as less severe than those who took the placebo.

Part 2 of the Study

In the second experiment, half of a group of 114 college students drank a Tylenol-laced liquid; and the other half drank a placebo. Then the participants were blasted with two four-second episodes of loud painful noise, which was comparable to the sound of a train whistle or motorcycle engine. The next step required the students to rate the blasts on a scale of 1 to 10, ranging from not unpleasant to extremely unpleasant. They also had to do the same for an anonymous participant by imagining how that person would perceive them. The results revealed the students who took the Tylenol didn’t rate the noise as unpleasantly for themselves and for others compared to those who took the placebo.

Part 2 of the experiment had an extra test. After allowing the students to socialize briefly among themselves, they were singly required to watch a simulated game online that involved three of the people they had just met. In the simulation, one of the three suffered social rejection; and the participants were asked to rate how badly they thought that person’s feelings were hurt. Once again, those who took the Tylenol rated the emotional pain less severely than those who took the placebo.

The Study’s Conclusion

“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” said coauthor Dominik Mischkowski. He called the effect “moderate,” noting Tylenol doesn’t completely remove all empathetic feelings.

The study’s takeaway is the discovery that the less pain people feel, the less they are able to empathize with the pain of others. Mischkowski expects it to have “real world implications.”


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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