Does Tylenol Reduce Empathy?

Recently one of my friends declined the tylenol I offered her for her headache because “it can make you a bitch.” Naturally, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about and she proceeding to explain that something in tylenol can have an effect on the empathy you feel for others. Even as she began to explain herself more, I was still not believing it. After this encounter I had the idea to research this topic for one of my blogs. As a hit the search button on google, a large amount of articles popped up discussing this exact topic. To my surprise, there were actual studies performed on the subject.

I found that there is a theory that Acetaminophen, a component of thousands of drugs across the globe, including tylenol, can have some mental and psychological effects on its users. Some believe that this drug can cause people to feel less empathetic than they usually would towards other people.

As I shifted through the different articles, the same study was mentioned in almost every one. I found the study which was conducted by professors from Ohio State. The study explains that the theory that Acetaminophen decreases the empathy that one feels stems from the idea that the pain one feel for others is closely linked with the pain that one personally feels. The science behind this is that personal pain and pain for others activate two of the same parts of the brain. 80 college students participated in this study. The study was a blind placebo trial, so the students either received Acetaminophen or did not, and they did not not where they were taking the drug or the placebo. After this step of the study, the students were told stories in which people underwent some type of pain. Following the stories, they were asked different questions on how they felt towards the people feeling pain. Those who had not taken Acetaminophen reported to feel more empathetic than those who did.

I think that the conductor of this study did a good job at making sure the study was as ethical as it possibly could be. Whenever testing drugs on humans, it is important to take preventative measures. The study explains that the students were informed on all of the risks included in taking the drug and were told what and what not to do if they decided to participate.

Overall I think that this is an interesting theory that seems to have some legitimate evidence to back it. I hope to see the furtherance of the study because it is regarding such a popular drug and if true, would be affecting a large quantity of people. brain-in-a-pill



2 thoughts on “Does Tylenol Reduce Empathy?

  1. Elsa Breakey

    This is really interesting! I’ve never heard of this happening before but it makes sense. The study that was conducted was done well because they got feedback after and was able to compare answers among those that took the drug and that didn’t – while the ones taking the Acetaminophen probably didn’t even know that their answers were less sympathetic.

    Is there a chance that the reason it makes people less empathetic due to the idea that something must be wrong if they have to take tylenol, so they might be irritated or feeling under the weather? Just a thought!

  2. Lauren Hile

    This is an interesting blog post. I’ve never even considered OTC pain killers to have an effect on our mental health. I used to get a lot of headaches in high school because of a concussion whose symptoms wouldn’t go away, and Tylenol was the only thing that worked, but I don’t remember feeling less empathetic. Maybe this is because the ingredient in Tylenol blocks the empathetic part of our brain. While I can’t find any studies on that (maybe because they haven’t been conducted yet), the whole concept of it causing a lack of empathy seems to be new as many websites are not listening it in the “side effects”, such as this one:

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