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Tylenol May Kill Kindness (washingtonpost.com) 169

Long-time Slashdot reader randomErr writes: In research published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience scientists describe the results of two experiments conducted involving more than 200 college students.Their conclusion is that acetaminophen can reduce a person's capacity to empathize with another person's pain. "We don't know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning," senior author Baldwin Way, an Ohio State University psychologist, said. One of the studies has half the group consume a liquid with acetaminophen while the other group received a placebo. The group that drink the acetaminophen thought that people they read about experiencing pain was not as severe as the placebo group thought.
The Washington Post notes that acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, adding that "about a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week."
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Tylenol May Kill Kindness

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  • Sounds plausible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyrewulff ( 702920 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @11:39AM (#54729569)

    I mean, the medicine alters your brain's perception of pain. Makes sense that it could, by proximity of function, alter your brain's perception of other people's pain.

    • Re:Sounds plausible (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bersl2 ( 689221 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @11:44AM (#54729607) Journal

      I personally find that acetaminophen is also good on the kind of pain induced by psychological withdrawl. If my brain starts hurting after having to go without one or more of my psychotropics for days, acetaminophen is better at addressing the spike being driven into my skull than other analgesics. So it does seem plausible that people with pain in the body may want to prefer NSAIDs or aspirin, unless contraindicated.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The reason is that, if I recall right, paracetamol actually has anadamide-reuptake-inhibition effects. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid.

    • Makes sense that it could, by proximity of function, alter your brain's perception of other people's pain.

      No it doesn't. "proximity of function" is a nonsense phrase. Try explaining that in biological instead of social science terms.

      • Re:Sounds plausible (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Calydor ( 739835 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @12:33PM (#54729871)

        Perception of pain is reduced by the medicine.

        Person tries to empathize with pain described by imagining what it would feel like.

        Perception of pain IS REDUCED.

        Objective expression of empathy becomes reduced as a result, but subjectively, seen from the people in the test? They probably didn't feel less empathic.

    • I don't think it is quite like that. But acetaminophen does disable the sensation of pain by acting on the nerves directly, it even has counter effects when taken with sedatives like diazepam (Valium), so it is not surprising it has other effects on the nervous system.

    • You feel FOR other's pain.
      You get an emotional reaction AS IF you're being hurt - minus the pain.
      And even that is if you're REALLY susceptible to empathy. Most cases you just feel a bit sad.

      Otherwise, doctors in hospitals would be dead from shock in a few days from all the pain they'd empathize with.
      Similarly, we don't get carted out of theaters on a stretcher after watching a comedy surrounded by other people and their happiness.

      It's a psychological study.
      It's a safe bet that it is either bullshit or overb [retractionwatch.com]

      • You don't feel literal pain, but most likely some of the pathways are shared for experiencing someone else's pain and your own. Evolution is good at optimizing.

        • Tell that to your appendix. And unwanted body hair. Or wanted but no longer there hair. Or your wisdom teeth.

          But besides that... even at a glance (which is far more than it should be given) data measured in the study, along with their p-values, are of the kind which will clearly disappear in a larger group with proper controls.
          They get median changes in values from -0.22 for acetaminophen to +0.22 for placebo groups - on a scale of -4 to +4. For physical pain.
          -0.19 and +0.19 for social pain.
          That's the resul

      • by The Rizz ( 1319 )

        You feel FOR other's pain.
        You get an emotional reaction AS IF you're being hurt - minus the pain.

        Tylenol has been indicated to reduce emotional pain as well as physical pain [slashdot.org], so equating empathy for others' pain to an emotional response supports this.

        • First study is bursting with methodology flaws. I doubt that it was even published.
          Aaaaand I was right. It was heavily edited before publishing.
          He dropped [nih.gov] the prostitute scenario in the first experiment (the one actually showing more "empathy" for the placebo group).

          In the video scenario... well...
          Apparently it's not acetaminophen but watching David Lynch that's causing the effect.
          Cause while the control group, which watches only cartoons, has minimal effects, well covered by error bars for both placebo and

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Not every medicine works at that level. Aspirin, Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium (alleve), while all different, are all COX-2 inhibitors, which reduce the production of prostaglandin hormones that both promote inflammation and sensitize peripheral nervous system neurons to pain. This is why you can't stack aspirin with Ibuprofen; they both work the same way. These drugs are unlikely to affect your judgment other than by reducing pain and inflammation.

      You *can* stack acetaminophen (Tylenol) with Ibuprofen, sa

      • After a recent accident, I was given a combintaion of Oxycodone and paracetamol, it was remarkable how much difference between just Oxycodone, and the paracetamol at the same time was, much better when combined.
        I read somewhere recently that studies had shown paracetamol was ineffective for back pain.

    • "It's so easy to hurt others when you can't feel pain" -- Hall and Oates, "Rich Girl"

    • Or these researchers simply haven't figured out that correlation and causation are different things.
    • When a quarter of the population is taking it, worry about politics instead.
    • Of course they are. Why do you think the Soviets boozed up their soldiers before sending them to fight in WW2 against like Finland? Mind you, they didn't always make for the best troops, but at least they kept trying to go forwards.

      • Boozing up your soldiers/sailors is an ancient tradition. e.g. 'Dutch courage'. 'The royal navy runs on rum and sodomy' etc etc.

        Plenty of legitimate things to beat up the Ruskys with.

        In the winter war, you can bet both sides kept flasks on antifreeze on hand.

    • I'm sure the military has much more powerful psychopathy-inducing drugs than acetaminophen. ISIS uses Captagon for this purpose.
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      I've never seen a culture quite so proud of its lack of empathy as the US culture.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This active ingredient is used by multiple manufacturers and highlighting a trade name and not the active ingredient the study was conducted on is bad practices.

    • In the US, Tylenol has become synonymous with aceominophen (or paracetamol) -- the vast majority won't recognise the name "aceominophen".

      • by Anonymous Coward

        In the US, Tylenol has become synonymous with aceominophen (or paracetamol) -- the vast majority won't recognise the name "aceominophen".

        In France, and apparently most of Europe, only the international name "paracetamol" is known, which isn't even mentioned in the summary... It's above the two others on Google...

        Wikipedia says [wikipedia.org] "acetaminophen is the name generally used in the United States, Japan, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia and Iran; paracetamol is used in international venues"...

        And for Tylenol [wikipedia.org]: "as of 2017, the Tylenol brand was used in Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Lebanon, Myanmar, Oman, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Tha

        • by johanw ( 1001493 )

          Good to know. The stuff does absolutely nothing with me when I have pain so I avoid using it.

          • Same here, the only things that work for me are tequila and nitrous oxide.

            • Same here, the only things that work for me are tequila and nitrous oxide.

              I wonder if you could make a sparkling Tequila?

              Like soft drinks are "carbonated". Only instead of carbonation it would be nitrous oxide forming the bubbles.

              • I found some hits for using it with beer but I suspect they're getting it confused with nitrogen, which I know for a fact is used for stuff like stouts.

                Do you know anyone who works in a hospital/dental clinic ... give it a try (though I wouldn't!).

        • It's like they speak an entirely different language there...omelet du fromage...

          They can all actually understand english, but only if you speak very slowly and with a fake frog accent.

          Actually: The best way to fake them out and get them to admit speaking English is to learn a little German.

      • A brand name makes better clickbait, which is all the only thing EditorDavid posts..
    • The actual article uses acetaminophen or paracetamol in its discussion. It uses the brand name only in the sentence: "Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is the most popular painkiller in the USA."
    • Tylenol is what most people call the drug in the US. In fact, I don't know anywhere where acetaminophen is the common name. In English speaking parts of Yurp, it's usually called "Paracetamol", for example. Using the technically correct generic term would confuse more than it would help.
  • Paracetamol (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @12:07PM (#54729737) Homepage

    For the non-North-Americans, it's referring to Paracetamol.

    Strangely, ibuprofen and aspirin have the same names, but aceominophen/paracetamol doesn't.

    • I've seen "acetomenofen" in Latin America.
    • The chemical name is para-acetylaminophenol. Both acetaminophen and paracetamol take a different subset of the letters.

    • "Aspirin" is a Bayer trademarked name. Legal shenanigans in the US led to Bayer losing the trademark here, but the proper generic name is acetylsalicylic acid - or ASA, for short.

      There are numerous other drugs that have slightly different generic names in different parts of the world, but most of them are not OTC and so are invisible to the layman. US succinycholine == UK suxamethonium, for example.
  • Given that scientists still don't know how acetaminophen works [acs.org] to relieve pain is it any surprise it could affect more than just the pain receptors?
  • The article says: "A substantial body of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research suggests that observing others experiencing pain (e.g. observing a person receiving a hot probe placed on the hand), activates brain regions that are also activated during one’s own experience of pain..."

    I think most of us have experienced the "wince reaction" when we someone else take a hit.
    My kids called this "sympathy pain" when they were little.
    What interests me about this study is I wonder what effec
  • by macurmudgeon ( 900466 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @12:34PM (#54729873) Homepage

    Comparing Tylenol against placebo is a start, but until it's compared against other pain relievers we won't know if the effects are specific to the drug or a generalized response to pain relievers in general.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @12:52PM (#54729959) Journal

    Over the years I've tried Tylenol for physical bumps and bruises and it has never seemed to work. Does it work for anyone? Aspirin and Ibuprofen both seem pretty effective, but Tylenol is like taking a sugar pill.

    • Only Tylenol 4 :) Codeine has a superadditive effect with acetaminophen. Otherwise, my experience is like yours. Aleve also works, kind of. Orudis KT worked great but they took it off the market because it was a liver killer.

    • Works for me. Generally go for naproxen due to longer half-life, but acetaminophen is much better than nothing. Codeine and hydrocodone don't add anything to it, in my experience. Never had any stronger opioids, so I can't speak to those.
    • Yep, same here.

    • >"Does it work for anyone? "

      It doesn't for me. Seemingly does absolutely nothing, regardless of the dose. Ibuprofen, however, works great.

  • "The group that drink the acetaminophen thought that people they read about experiencing pain was not as severe as the placebo group thought."

    If you can unscramble this, you're good. Slashdot "editors"--- great work!

  • Is it just painkilling meds doing this?

    Is this result ALSO seen to any degree with say, aspirin, ibuprofen, etc?

    That's the real question.

  • Pain and particularly headaches. They should also compare with tylenol and pain together, and pain alone. I am betting they will find out while tylenol MAY have an effect, not using it will also have a strong negative effect....
  • Sounds reasonable to me.

    When I would take Excedrin (which has acetaminophen) I would get this lovey type feeling.
    Maybe it acts like other drugs and reduces the ability of those lovey sections of the brain from working as well.

    I am not a lovey guy but I am not about to jump to the conclusion is was all the Excedrin I was taking but I always worried a bit that I may have overdid it because of its affects on the liver. Now I have one more thing to dissuade me from using it.

  • Pain is an absolutely essential component of the information you get from your environment. It's a required part of complete cognitive process.

    In case you missed most of reality (mass surveillance, stupefying media, federally mandated false education, economic disparity (bubbles, crashes, depressions), etc.), most of society exists to control you. The medical industry is no exception. It exists not to help you achieve your potential through good health, but to CONTROL you, keeping you healthy enough to work

  • >"Their conclusion is that acetaminophen can reduce a person's capacity to empathize with another person's pain."

    I find that ironic because it seems acetaminophen doesn't do anything at all to alleviate my pain, ever. Ibuprofen, on the other hand, works great. Perhaps many of the test volunteers were still IN PAIN when using acetaminophen and so they can't think of others at the time (pain is, unfortunately, very good at bringing focus to itself).

  • "about a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week."

    Well, I finally understand why there are so many out and out a**holes on Internet message forums these days. Here I just thought it was basic human nature expressing itself from the anonymity of a made up user handle.
  • by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Sunday July 02, 2017 @11:30PM (#54732729)

    Didn't someone show that US college students are pretty much the worst subjects to do any testing on?

    http://ds-wordpress.haverford.... [haverford.edu]

  • Why is Tylenol like Islam?
  • Tylenol is an American brand name for what they call Acetaminophen but is Paracetamol in the UK
  • It's such a great painkiller that you can't even feel someone else's! I see the basis for a new marketing campaign.
  • I just had Tylenol and now I'm going to vote everyone's posts down on this topic.

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