Thursday, May 12, 2016
Is Lack of Civility Caused by Tylenol? Yes!
Everyone sees the ever-lowering standards of civility in the U.S. and around the world but now Ohio State University (OSU) researchers may have found a major cause and it is a simple painkiller - acetaminophen (paracetamo), also known as Tylenol, has been shown to reduce empathy in a placebo based double-blind experiment.
“Dominik Mischkowski, Jennifer Crocker, Baldwin M. Way. From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2016; nsw057 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsw057”
Simply put, the study, published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, indicated that student volunteers showed less concern over other people’s pain when they had taken Tylenol.
Another study at OSU demonstrated that acetaminophen intake also blunts positive emotions such as joy.
This finding, although not new, is so important because each week nearly one-quarter of Americans take something that includes acetaminophen, and empathy is a civilizing influence - you may know it as The Golden Rule - “do unto others, etc.”
What leads many people to treating others as they would like to be treated, i.e., with compassion and understanding, is known as empathy, the ability to understand another’s pain.
Acetaminophen is the most common drug used in the United States (and likely in many other countries) and, according to Science Daily, is found in more than 600 other medicines besides those labeled as the pain killer.
So, does your spouse, friend, neighbor, political leader, etc., act as if he or she didn’t really care how you feel? If so, the answer could be not that each is basically unfeeling and totally lacks empathy but that he or she had a muscle ache or headache and took a Tylenol.
But this shouldn’t be a major surprise because it was already known that specific areas of the brain are involved in empathy, so it is reasonable to expect chemicals that alter brain activity could affect the feeling of empathy.
The Oxford Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience stated as far back as 2011, "Empathy for the social suffering of friends and strangers recruits distinct patterns of brain activation" - in plain English, that means functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies showed that people's brains actually showed certain activity when they were feeling empathy (affective pain regions).
Ibuprofen is now being studied at OSU to see if that NSAID also has the same effect on empathy.
But it is important to realize this isn’t a new result, there are a number of similar studies in the literature.
Acetaminophen Reduces Social Pain : Behavioral and Neural Evidence. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610374741 Psychological Science 2010 21: 931 originally published online 14 June 2010 Combs, David R. Schurtz, Tyler F. Stillman, Dianne M. Tice and Naomi I. Eisenberger C. Nathan DeWall, Geoff MacDonald, Gregory D. Webster, Carrie L. Masten, Roy F. Baumeister, Caitlin Powell, David