Tag Archives: Research

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.”


Study claims Concord grape juice improves cognitive function

18 Mar

A paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition makes that claim. Here is the study design:

“Twenty-five healthy mothers (aged 40–50 y) of preteen children who were employed for ≥30 h/wk consumed 12 ounces (355 mL) of either CGJ (containing 777 mg total polyphenols) or an energy-, taste-, and appearance-matched placebo daily for 12 wk according to a randomized crossover design with a 4-wk washout. Verbal and spatial memory, executive function, attention, blood pressure, and mood were assessed at baseline and at 6 and 12 wk. Immediately after the cognitive battery, a subsample of 17 women completed a driving performance assessment at the University of Leeds Driving Simulator. The 25-min driving task required participants to match the speed and direction of a lead vehicle.”

And here are the results:

“Significant improvements in immediate spatial memory and driving performance were observed after CGJ relative to placebo. There was evidence of an enduring effect of CGJ such that participants who received CGJ in arm 1 maintained better performance in the placebo arm.”

The full paper is here. One observation, if the grape juice effect carried over to the placebo condition, then the either the washout period was not long enough, or the grape juice had a permanent effect on cognition, or there is some other methodological flaw.

The research was supported by Welch Foods Inc.

More on speed reading

10 Feb

Last week I blogged on speed reading.

One interesting area of research is rapid serial visual presentation  (RSVP) of words. Unfortunately, while RSVP can significantly increase reading speed for short texts, the available evidence suggests that comprehension suffers for longer texts.

However, here is a Quantified Self video making the case for RSVP

Kyrill Potapov: Finding My Optimum Reading Speed from Quantified Self on Vimeo.

Does hand clenching improve memory?

14 Jul

The claim that a hand clenching procedure may improve memory has received a lot of attention in the media.

Here is a typical description:

“Clenching your right hand may help create a stronger memory of an event or action, and clenching your left hand may help you recall the memory later, according to a new study.”

My first advice when you hear a claim about a new memory breakthrough is to look at the original research.  Google Scholar  makes that easy. The paper, “Getting a Grip on Memory: Unilateral Hand Clenching Alters Episodic Recall” can be found here.

The first thing you will notice is that many of the media reports make errors in their descriptions of the research. For example, the study is not about fist clenching but about clenching a rubber ball.

That aside, is the claim plausible? The think the answer is yes.  There is a hypothesis called the Hemispheric Encoding/Retrieval Asymmetry model  which suggests that regions in the left hemisphere of the brain are involved in storing information into long term memory while areas of right hemisphere are involved in retrieving that information. In addition, there is evidence that clenching a ball in one hand increased the activity of the brain hemisphere on the opposite side of the body.

However, plausible is not the same as true. We need to assess the quality of the evidence and this study seems flawed in a number of ways. This response to the paper does a good job of explaining some these flaws. The bottom line is that the research does not provide convincing evidence for its claim.

This does not mean that the claim is untrue? A fair statement would be that the jury is still out until more rigorous research is conducted.

Using Google Scholar

10 Jul

Outside of the universities, most people learn about science through secondary media sources. These sources can be quite valuable allowing knowledgeable individuals to interpret important research findings to the public. Deric Bownd’s Mindblog is an excellent example of this approach and, of course, this blog is itself a secondary source. On the other hand, media can sometimes distort or sensationalize research findings.

One of the great untapped possibilities of the internet is that primary research literature is now much more available to the public. In most cases you can find, at least, the abstract of important research reports. Often you can find the entire research paper on line. This means that you have the opportunity to read research without filters. In my opinion the easiest way to access research is through Google Scholar.

Google Scholar searches published research and patents. Let’s say we were interested in the reading the research on aspirin and Alzheimer’s disease. All we would have to do is to open Google Scholar and enter the relevant search terms.

search terms

Note that I have unchecked the box for patent search since they would not be relevant in this case. Here are the search results:

search results date sorted

A couple of things to note. The links tend to be links to abstracts, however, the original papers are often available as pdfs in the right hand column.

Google Scholar also gives you option of sorting by date, so you can easily read the most recent research (but, be careful here, recent research is not always better research, each study should evaluated on its own terms). In addition, there is a link that shows how often, each paper is cited. If you click on the citation link it will produce a list of papers that have cited that work. This is very helpful because it allows you to see if other researchers have found similar results.

Primary research papers are often written in a technical language. But technical does not mean inpenetrable. With a little patience you can often follow the main thread of the argument and evaluate how well the evidence supports that argument.

One the central goals of modern education needs to be the creation of informed consumers of research.


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