Headaches and heartaches, broken bones and broken spirits. We often use the same words to describe physical and mental pain. But can a common painkiller ease not only the physical affliction of sore joints and headaches, but also the misery of social rejection?
A research team led by psychologist C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky has uncovered evidence indicating that acetaminophen (active ingredient in Tylenol which relieves pain, reducing fever and symptoms of allergies, cold, cough, and flu) may blunt social pain.
“The idea - that a drug designed to alleviate physical pain should reduce the pain of social rejection - seemed simple and straightforward. To my surprise, I couldn't find anyone who had ever tested this idea,” Mr. DeWall said.
Mr. DeWall and colleagues investigated this connection through two experiments. In the first experiment, 62 healthy volunteers took 1,000 milligrams daily of either acetaminophen or a placebo.
Hurt feelings and social pain decreased over time in those taking acetaminophen, while no change was observed in subjects taking the placebo.
Levels of positive emotions remained stable, with no significant changes observed in either group. These results indicate that acetaminophen use may decrease self-reported social pain over time, by impacting emotions linked to hurt feelings.
In the second experiment, 25 healthy volunteers took 2,000 mg daily of either acetaminophen or a placebo.
After three weeks of taking the pills, subjects participated in a computer game rigged to create feelings of social rejection, said a Kentucky University release.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) employed during the game revealed that acetaminophen reduced neural responses to social rejection in brain regions associated with the distress of social pain.