Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is a well-known over-the-counter pain reliever. Surprisingly, a Psychological Science study by University of Florida psychologist Gregory Webster shows that it can heal social pains as well.
Webster gave 24 women and 6 men 500 mg of acetaminophen twice a day for three weeks (upon waking and before bed), and gave another 24 women and 8 men a placebo. Neither group knew what they were taking. The acetaminophen group self-reported significantly fewer hurt feelings than the placebo group during the three week period.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) corroborated these results. While hooked up to the fMRI machine, participants were asked to play a computer game in which their avatar is suddenly and inexplicably excluded from a ball game with two other partners. The acetaminophen users showed less activity in regions of the brain associated with emotional processing.
Overdosing on acetaminophen can have serious consequences, such as liver failure. Webster cautions that until more research is done, people should not take acetaminophen to cope with personal slights. If acetaminophen does prove to be effective for this purpose, it could be a relatively safe, mild alternative to more powerful drugs.