New Study: How Taking Tylenol Can Turn You Into a Bit of a Jerk

A new study shows acetaminophen can affect a person's abilities to empathize.

Welp, here’s an unexpected side effect of popping a Tylenol: A new study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that acetaminophen – the most common drug in the country — can screw with a person’s ability to empathize, along with reducing pain, the Washington Post reports. In other words, taking a Tylenol can turn you into a bit of a jerk.

The study, which included over 200 college students, consisted of three parts: First, participants were split into two groups and asked to drink something. The first group’s drink contained 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen (the max recommended dosage for Tylenol is 3,000 milligrams per day), while the second group had a drink without acetaminophen. An hour later, the participants were asked to rate the pain of characters in fictional scenarios, some involving physical trauma and some involving emotional trauma. Those who’d taken the acetaminophen rated the pain of the people in the scenarios as less severe than those hadn’t taken any of the drug.

The second part of the experiment subjected some poor, poor souls to blasts of white noise, then asked study participants to rate the pain of the person who was subjected to the sounds. Again, the participants who’d taken the acetaminophen thought the other person’s pain was less severe than those who hadn’t taken it. Lastly, the participants were asked to rate pain of people in online skits involving social rejection (ouch!), and again, the acetaminophen group was less empathetic.

See what we mean by Tylenol turning you into a jerk?

As Baldwin Way, author of the study and an Ohio State psychologist, said in a statement, they don’t know why acetaminophen is screwing with people’s levels of empathy in this way, but they do know that it’s a problem, and it could be messing with our lives in ways we hadn’t considered. As she said, “Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.” So, next time you have a killer headache and the only light at the end of the tunnel is a Tylenol, maybe avoid bringing up any touchy topics with, well, anyone for the next few hours.

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