Lots of people pop over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers like candy, without considering the potential consequences.
But those consequences reach a lot farther than you might think.
Take acetaminophen (Tylenol®), for example. Not only is it the leading cause of liver failure in the United States, but now, recent research shows it may actually reduce feelings of empathy in people who use it.
Less pain, less pleasure
This study featured nearly 115 college students. Researchers gave them either 1,000 mg of acetaminophen or a placebo, then showed them written scenarios to assess for empathy.
One scenario, for example, described a man proposing to his girlfriend. Another described a woman getting a raise at her job. And another described a woman whose father attended her musical performance.
Subjects then completed a series of measures of empathy—including perceived positivity, perceived pleasure, and personal pleasure. Researchers also assessed the degree to which subjects felt sympathy, warmth, compassion, and tenderness, as well as how deeply they were moved.
Ultimately, the subjects who took acetaminophen showed less pleasure and empathy for the characters in these scenarios. (Their ability to recognize the character’s pleasure and positivity didn’t change—which means that cognitively, they could still empathize. They just simply felt less.)
This is fascinating (and slightly terrifying) by itself. But what I didn’t know is that this latest data is actually just the most recent in a line of studies investigating acetaminophen’s effects on social behavior.
And considering the fact that our interactions with one other matter more today than perhaps ever before, this is incredibly important work.
Thinking past the pain
Previous studies from these researchers showed that acetaminophen lowered users’ empathy for negative experiences and emotions, like pain. (Maybe that’s one reason this whole world has turned upside down!)
The fact is, pain itself lowers our ability to empathize. It causes us to focus heavily on ourselves and our own experience—making us less able to receive cues from others as to what they want or need.
In other words, when we are in pain, we tend to be fixated on that and only that. And with so many of us in pain right now—both physical and mental—we need to keep in mind the potentially selfish consequences.
Because empathy, truly, is one of the most valuable tools in our emotional arsenal. It allows us to stop living so much in the negative and to create positive change—which is especially critical in the environments that we are all collectively navigating right now, in the face of a virus that may never go away.
I know I don’t usually talk about emotions in this space, but I think the only way for us to grow stronger through this COVID-19 nightmare is to truly examine who we are and who we believe ourselves to be.
Pandemics aren’t new, but the social impact of this threat has many of us in some pretty uncharted territory. It’s time to dig deep… hold tight to our empathy… and be mindful of the impact of our thoughts and actions as we move through what will inevitably continue to be some very grim times.
So, with all of that in mind, just say no to acetaminophen and focus on the many science-backed natural ways you can relieve and even eliminate pain. For guidance, I encourage you to check out my comprehensive, online learning tool, my Pain-Free Protocol. To learn more, or to enroll today, click here now.
“Acetaminophen May Blunt Empathy.” Medscape Medical News, 04/17/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/911911)