We’ve all experienced the distinct effects of a nice analgesic, whether it was amidst a debilitating rhinovirus, or after one of those over-did-it workouts: the ease of movement, the decrease in physical stress, and most importantly the shift of focus from your pain to reality. We should all be thrilled then, to learn that on top of reducing physical symptoms of pain, drugs normally taken to alleviate minor aches and pains could actually work to reduce the emotional twinge of social rejection, according to recent research.
The study, powered by C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, gave volunteers either acetaminophen or placebo, and then subjected them to a game of virtual ball-toss. Over time, subjects were gradually rejected from the game. Those who had been given the analgesic demonstrated signs that they experienced fewer feelings of rejection, as was inferred through brain imaging of the anterior cingulate cortex, an area associated with feelings of emotional pain and desperation.
DeWall and his colleagues also demonstrated the effects of acetaminophen on a person’s moral judgment. When confronted with typical ethical quandaries, such as whether or not it’s right to sacrifice one person to ensure the safety of others, subjects showed less hesitancy in declaring their moral choice.
Though these researchers are quick to point out that no one should expect to correct their emotional problems with such a common drug, I think it’s important to realize just how effective a small chemical push towards recovering from a refusal could be. So often, when met with defeat or failure, it’s our natural reaction to dwell on our lack of fortune, to lose confidence or determination, or simply to become angry and resentful. In a world where there’s a constant competition for success, our failings become exaggerated, and our emotional anguish increases. As more and more Americans (over 27 million) elect to take strong psychotropic prescription antidepressants, it’s comforting to think that a slight mood improvement can be afforded through more mild drugs like Tylenol. Of course, acetaminophen has its own dangers, and causes liver failure if abused. Still, whether one is applying to graduate schools and jobs, or asking someone out on a date, a little Tylenol couldn’t hurt.
Social Analgesics– Gary Stix