Does a Well-Known Pain Killer Kill Empathy?

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts and feelings from his or her point of view rather than from one’s own. It is a crucial force for building friendship, unity and good will in human relationships and important for developing emotional intelligence.

In recent years some neuroscientists have advanced the concept of mirror neurons, which are specialized neurons buried deep in our brains that give us the capacity to read and respond to the emotional signals of others.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that college students are 40 percent less empathetic today than they were just 10 years ago. Of course students’ increased screen time is seen as the cause of a reduction in empathy.

But a researcher at Ohio University may have found another source for the decline in empathy, and it may be in your medicine cabinet.

Professor Dominik Mischkowski, who focuses his research on the relationship between physical pain and psychological behavior, has been studying the relationship between acetaminophen and empathy since 2016.

In his research people were given either acetaminophen or a placebo and then asked to respond to scenarios in which people were having either a positive experience or a negative experience. The people who received the acetaminophen showed a measurable drop in empathy in both scenarios.

To me it would seem the research would show the very opposite results. A person taking acetaminophen would be in less pain and therefore more likely to be empathetic to others. It also seems to me these were quite small studies so more research is definitely needed. It would also be nice to hear what the makers of acetaminophen would have to say about this study.

Acetaminophen is most commonly known as the main ingredient in Tylenol but it is also  found in many popular over-the-counter pain- and fever-reducing medications and has a variety of other side effectsDrs. Oz and Roizen recommend a variety of lifestyle adjustments to control pain — improved nutrition, better sleep, weight management, more physical activity.


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