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Surprising Science

Pain Relievers May Be Numbing Your Emotions

Popping a Tylenol may do more than just alleviate that headache you've been suffering through; it may also be a potent solution for numbing emotions.

Popping a Tylenol may do more than just alleviate that headache you’ve been suffering through; it may also be a potent solution for numbing emotions. Researchers, led by social psychology doctoral candidate Geoffrey Durso, have published a study in the journal Psychological Science, which reveals that “rather than being labeled as merely a pain reliever, acetaminophen might be better described as an all-purpose emotion reliever.”

In one experiment, the researchers gathered 82 participants to test their emotional responses to a series of images. Half of them took a pill containing acetaminophen, while the other half took a placebo before the test.

An hour after consuming the pill with or sans drugs, the researchers had the participants look at 40 photographs with a range of emotional content. Some images were meant to evoke a sad response with images of things like “crying, malnourished children.” Others were happy (e.g., kids playing with kittens), and some were neutral (e.g., a cow standing in a field).

After looking at each photo, participants were asked to rate them on a scale of positive to negative. The participants then ran through the photos a second time; this time the participants had to rate on the same scale how much emotion the image provoked.

The results are quite stirring. The researchers write:

“Participants who took acetaminophen evaluated unpleasant stimuli less negatively and pleasant stimuli less positively, compared with participants who took a placebo. Participants in the acetaminophen condition also rated both negative and positive stimuli as less emotionally arousing than did participants in the placebo condition…”

Durso reacted to the findings in a statement, saying:

“This means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought.”

This study isn’t the first to find a link between acetaminophen and mental impairment. Two years ago The Atlantic reported on a study that revealed how physical and mental pain share the same neural process.

It’s an unsettling idea to say the least that people have been blunting their pain and emotions for years without realizing it. This topic would be of some interest to Julie Holland, author of Moody Bitches. In her interview with Big Think, she argues that women are over-medicating because they are convinced their natural sensitivity is something that needs to be fixed:

Read more at EurekAlert!.

Photo Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

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