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Reduction of empathy: Pain relievers like paracetamol significantly dampens our compassion

Reduction of empathy: Pain relievers like paracetamol significantly dampens our compassion


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Painkillers with side effects: Paracetamol apparently weakens our compassion

Paracetamol is one of the most common pain relievers in Germany. Health experts advise against using the drug too often. After all, it can have unwanted side effects. Researchers from the USA have discovered an effect on the preparation that can also affect human life: Paracetamol lowers our compassion.

So far unknown side effect of paracetamol

Headache, toothache, fever: Paracetamol is one of the painkillers that are used most often in this country. The drug is available in the pharmacy without a prescription and does not cost much. The drug was considered safe for a long time, but acetaminophen is more dangerous than expected. It is known, for example, that the drug can increase the risk of stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke if the doses are too high. It was only recently decided that the preparation, like other over-the-counter pain relievers, will in future only be sold with a warning. Researchers from the United States report another undesirable side effect of the drug: acetaminophen weakens our compassion for others.

Less sensitive to pain from others

As Jennifer Crocker and Baldwin M. Way from Ohio State University and Dominik Mischkowski from the National Institute of Health in the USA report in the specialist journal "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience", acetaminophen makes people less sensitive to the pain that others feel.

As part of their study, psychologists administered 40 out of 80 college students a drink that contained 1,000 milligrams of paracetamol. A dose that is also available in Germany without a prescription.

The other half of the participants were given a drink that contained no active ingredient. None of the subjects knew which group they belonged to.

An hour after ingestion, the study participants were asked to read eight short stories in which someone had a painful experience, such as a cut or the loss of a loved one.

They should then use a scale to indicate how much pain, in their opinion, they felt in the story.

It was found that those who received paracetamol rated the pain as less severe than those who did not take the drug.

Drug-less noise less bad

In a second trial, 114 additional students were divided into two groups, one of whom received paracetamol and the other a placebo. All subjects heard a very loud noise.

The subsequent survey showed that the students rated the noise as less bad under the influence of the pain reliever. They also believed that others would do the same.

In another test, the scientists had the test subjects watch a video game sequence in which one person was excluded from a team.

In this way, they checked whether the feeling for another person's socially painful experience also suffered when the study participants had taken the pain reliever. The researchers were also correct with this assumption.

Little attention has been paid to psychological side effects

The psychological side effects of paracetamol have so far been neglected. It takes away the ability of people to put themselves in someone else's shoes.

In a statement from Ohio State University, Way said, "We don't know why paracetamol has this effect, but it is worrying."

A study published in the journal "Psychological Science" also showed that the drug not only relieves pain but also has an impact on the psyche. The agent accordingly dampens emotional reactions.

It is also interesting what researchers at the University of California reported a few months ago: painkillers such as acetaminophen should also work for lovesickness. However, they advised against using such medication in the event of mental suffering. (ad)

Author and source information


Video: Under The Surface - Empathy Film (May 2022).


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