Does Tylenol reduce empathy

16 May

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a number of papers reporting psychological effects of the drug acetaminophen (the generic name of Tylenol). Here is an interesting recent example, a paper in the journal l Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, titled “From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain.” From the abstract:

“As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others’ pain. Acetaminophen also reduced the unpleasantness of noise blasts delivered to the participant, which mediated acetaminophen’s effects on empathy. Together, these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy. Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, these drug-induced reductions in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen, which is taken by almost a quarter of US adults each week.”

Why would Tylenol make us less empathetic?

“Simulation theories of empathy hypothesize that empathizing with others’ pain shares some overlapping psychological computations with the processing of one’s own pain.”


2 Responses to “Does Tylenol reduce empathy”

  1. Enrique Guerra-Pujol May 16, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Let’s add those papers to the stack of studies that need to be replicated …

  2. jecgenovese May 19, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    Yes, but as strange as the conclusion may seem, it is plausible. Most popular analgesic drugs, such as aspirin, are prostaglandin inhibitors, acting at the site of the inflammation. Tylenol is appears to use a different mechanism and its major effect may be on the brain itself. A number of other studies have suggested that Tylenol indeed may have psychological effects.

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