Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States. It is found in over 600 different medicines according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and each week around 23 % of American adults (52 million people) use a product containing acetaminophen.
This week a study by scientists from the National Institute of Health and published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience suggests that acetaminophen can reduce a person’s empathy.
This finding was brought about by conducting various experiments.
The first of these experiments involved splitting a group of 80 participants in half and providing them with a liquid to drink. In half of the liquids there was 1,000mg of acetaminophen and the other half did not contain the drug (this liquid was a placebo). After consuming the liquid the groups were asked to rate pain experienced by characters in fictional situations. These scenarios involved examples of physical pain, such as a knife cut down to the bone, as well as emotional pain such as one character experiencing the death of their father.
Overall the subjects who had taken the acetaminophen rated the pain lower than those who consumed the liquid alone.
The second experiment involved the exposure of participants to blasts of white noise. Following this the participants were asked to rate the pain of another participant who had also experienced the sound. As with the first experiment those who had received the acetaminophen rated the pain as less intense than those who consumed the placebo.
These two experiments were based on studies that identified a brain region, known as the anterior insula, thought to be vital in an empathetic response.
The conclusion drawn from the study was that the less pain that a person feels the less they are able to empathise. The team plan on continuing their research via investigating other common painkillers such as ibuprofen to see if this leads to similar results.