After a beast-level leg day or in the midst of a killer case of cramps, reaching for a few painkillers is probably a no-brainer. But according to a new study, popping a couple Tylenol pills is dulling more than just your muscle pain.
Researchers from Ohio State University looked beyond the effects of taking acetaminophen (the most common drug ingredient used in the United States and the active ingredient found in Tylenol) on your body and explored what popping the popular painkiller does to your brain—specifically, your ability to empathize with others' pain. (Watch out for these 4 Scary Side Effects of Common Drugs.)
To test this, the researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, they split up a group of college students, giving participants either 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen (the equivalent of two Tylenol) or a placebo. Then both groups of students were asked to read eight scenarios about the suffering of another person—either emotional or physical—and asked to rate how much pain the people in the scenarios were in. Surprisingly, those who had taken the painkiller rated the pain of others as less severe.
In a second experiment, participants who had taken acetaminophen were asked to rate the pain and hurt feelings of someone who was excluded from a social game the participants were involved in. Those who had popped the painkillers thought the social exclusion was less of a big deal than participants who went into the game scenario drug-free.
At the end of both experiments, the researchers concluded that taking acetaminophen impairs our ability to empathize with other people's pain, whether it's physical or social/emotional. (Did you know Friends Are Better Than Painkillers?)
Considering the fact that about 20 percent of us are using these painkillers on a weekly basis, the empathy-reducing effects are certainly worth paying attention to (and might even explain why your bitchy coworker seems particularly insensitive while she's marathon training). No word yet on whether ibuprofen causes our empathetic powers to take a hit too, so when you do reach for the medicine cabinet, it might be worth trying to be a little extra sensitive to compensate.