What if I told you that a well-known pain reliever which we all use when we have a fever or a headache also kills our ability to be empathic?

Empathy as we know it is the ability to place oneself in another person’s position so as to understand and/or feel what one is going through.

This encompasses different types of emotional states such as having the need to help those suffering as a result of too much care for them and in other circumstances, actually feeling emotions that reflect those of the other person. Now, did you know that certain painkillers might have an impact on empathy?

Well, just recently research done found that Acetaminophen reduces peoples empathy for the pain of others. Acetaminophen also is known as Tylenol is a pain reliever used to treat fevers and take the edge off nasty headaches. The interesting thing about this ingredient is that it also gets rid of the “fellow-feeling” or empathy if you may like to call it.

A study done by Dr. Dominic Mischowiski, who is the study’s first author, revealed that once an individual has taken Acetaminophen, he/she experiences less empathy towards those in pain.

As part of the study, blind experiments were conducted on some college students where some were given Acetaminophen and the other placebo. To fully get the effect of the drug, the participants were tasked with listening to stories of painful experiences that people had gone through.

The stories involved those of physical pain such as accidents and social pain such as bullying. They were asked to rate their empathy for the incidents they listened to.

The results were unbelievable; those who had taken Acetaminophen consistently gave lower pain ratings compared to those who had taken a placebo. Their empathy was decreased especially for the pain of those people whose stories they were told.

Dr. Baldwin Way, a study co-author, raised his concern about the effects of this pain reliever with an argument that empathy is very important to human beings.

Take for example two really close friends or a couple who share everything they go through. So one day one of them has a nasty headache and he/she takes a pain reliever with Acetaminophen and an argument arises.

Due to the effects of this ingredient, the individual on Acetaminophen will feel less pain during the argument which results in less understanding of the other person’s feelings.

See where DR. Baldwin’s worry comes in?

These results shine a light on Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, as commonly known in the US or paracetamol in other parts of the world. While taking it may reduce pain, it might also reduce one’s ability to feel other people’s pain.

Extensive research on Acetaminophen is going on and researchers are turning to another common pain reliever, ibuprofen, to just try and see whether it has the same effects on people.

Not to scare you but this is just one of the reasons why you need to be very careful particularly when taking medications without getting prescriptions from a qualified medical practitioner. Of course, extensive use of such drugs may not have an effect on you, but why take the risks?


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Egline J., B.A.

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