Down and Out? Try a Tylenol.

in Uncategorized
September 16th, 2010

We’ve all experienced the distinct effects of a nice analgesic, whether it anguishwas 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

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3 Comments on Down and Out? Try a Tylenol.

  • I am curious about the morality experiment you mention. Was it specifically that the subjects were less hesitant in their choices or that they took less time to make them or that they were more faithful to them post-factum?

    It would also be interesting to see whether the subjects taking tylenol would make the same moral judgements as control subjects, especially when considering numerous and challenging questions (as opposed to one simple question). Such prodding may show that tylenol actually affects judgement, not only the speed of decision making.

  • I’m not sure how DeWall defined “hesitant”. The experiment testing the connection between acetaminophen and moral judgement is still in the research stage, and the paper addressing that specific issue has yet to be published.

    Since it was shown that acetaminophen reduces the amount of emotion-related pain, I would guess that when faced with a decision that has moral implications, the types of emotional attachments that are connected to morality are somehow changed. For example, if you’re asked to choose between saving the life of a loved one or saving the lives of five perfect strangers, you will automatically experience an emotional conflict.
    Of course, there are less emotionally-related questions, like whether it’s okay to sacrifice an adult to save a child, or whether it’s alright to sacrifice one stranger to save the lives of two. The ways in which these questions pull at our emotional strings isn’t as clear, but I guess we’ll see what DeWall meant when that paper comes out.

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