A new study by the Department of Psychology at Ohio State University finds that many common over-the-counter and prescription drugs could be dulling our capacity for empathy. The culprit is acetaminophen, commonly used to treat pain and, according to KnowYourDose.org, the most common drug ingredient in America. Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in numerous brand names including Tylenol, Midol, Nyquil, Lortab, Percocet and many more.
The study tested the reactions of two groups to both positive and negative images. Group one had taken acetaminophen and group two were given placebos. Participants who ingested the drug rated images less positive and less negative than the placebo group. Even more interestingly, they rated the images less emotionally arousing.
Further studies show that when the participants taking the active ingredient in Tylenol learned about the misfortune of others, they assumed the individuals experienced less pain and suffering compared to the placebo participants. Co-author of the study Dr. Dominik Mischkowski explains, “These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen”.
Why should these findings be a big deal to us? Collectively, cultivating empathy obviously helps the world become a safer, kinder, more loving place to live — but it can also be self-serving. Joan Halifax explains in her TED Talk: Compassion and the True Meaning of Empathy, that various researchers have found, “compassion enhances our immune system.” This is big news, especially considering that acetaminophen has already been linked to drug overdose and severe liver injury. It’s possible for certain people that taking acetaminophen is doing more harm than good.
The takeaway is to be mindful of what you ingest. Even if it seems harmless, do your homework, determine if there are other alternatives and weigh the risks and benefits. If it is determined you need the drug, be diligent about taking only the recommended dosage. In the end, we are all responsible for our own health and this includes developing our individual capacity for empathy.