New York: A painkiller used to treat headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, backache, colds and fevers can relive pain, but is also likely to decrease empathy for both the physical and social aches that other people experience, a new study suggests.
"Acetaminophen can serve as a painkiller as well as reduce empathy," said one of the researchers Dominik Mischkowski from Ohio State University.
The results showed that when participants who took acetaminophen -- the main ingredient in the painkiller Tylenol -- learned about the misfortunes of others, they thought these individuals experienced less pain and suffering, when compared to those who took no painkiller.
"The findings suggest other people's pain doesn't seem as big of a deal to you when you've taken acetaminophen," Mischkowski added in the paper appeared in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
"Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse's feelings," Mischkowski stated.
Previous studies showed that acetaminophen also blunts positive emotions like joy.
Taken together, the two studies suggest there's a lot we need to learn about one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs, the researchers said adding that the reason for these effects are still unclear.
In the study, the team conducted experiment involving 80 college students. Half the students drank a liquid containing 1,000 mg of acetaminophen, while the other half drank a placebo solution that contained no drug. The students didn't know which group they were in.
After waiting one hour for the drug to take effect, the participants read eight short scenarios in which someone suffered some sort of pain.
The participants who took acetaminophen rated the pain of the people in the scenarios to be less severe than did those who took the placebo.