Recent studies show that millions of Americans are taking over the counter medicines everyday which reduce their level of empathy toward themselves and others. In this podcast, Blair shares with you the studies and the challenges of how a medicated society is subtly, yet profoundly, changing our world:
We know that all of us numb out in some way when we’re stressed, and we numb out by doing things such as blanking out, or we play our music loud, or we dance, or we have a cold refreshing beverage of some sort. When we are stressed, we all do something to sort of numb things out.
Terri has always said (she happens to be a specialist who understands the use of pain medications, which has been her expertise for over 25 years as a physician) that when people numb out the pain (with prescription medications), they also numb out emotionally. Well, that sounded really good and logical to me; then all of a sudden she gave me 12 pages of proof! And this is really fascinating!
There was a study done at Ohio State University*, 2 different studies, one involving 80 college students and one involving 114 college students, and what they found out was that by just simply taking one Tylenol (acetaminophen) a day, it reduced their empathy towards other people’s suffering. And in the study, they had the participants rank the pain each person might experience in different scenarios, of whether they felt hurt or wounded or felt pain. And the students that were taking a Tylenol, didn’t think that the painful scenarios described would hurt that much. That it didn’t seem to bother them that much; therefore they thought the other person wouldn’t be hurting that much. The study showed that acetaminophen can reduce empathy, as well as serve as a pain killer.
[Both sources cited at the end of post.]
Then came the statistics:
Each week, 23% of American adults, approximately 52 million people**, use a medicine containing acetaminophen (Tylenol). That acetaminophen also blunts positive emotions like joy. So not only do they not recognize that maybe their words might be painful for another person to hear, that they’re a little more brash. A person might be really hurting from a life event that they’re telling you about, but if you’re taking Tylenol, you don’t think it’s that bad. But if you’re not taking Tylenol, you go “Oh, my gosh!”
Now, I believe that people are probably taking other things besides Tylenol, and it’s probably having the same effect. Then, if you add in the number of people that are taking medicines for anxiety or for depression, that may also numbing out their ability to have empathy for other people, I find that really interesting, really sad.
When I saw this journal article, Terri and I had many long discussions about it, I thought goodness gracious! A lot of people don’t realize they might be hurting our feelings by what they’re saying because they might be taking some Bufferin or some other common pain reliever, you know? They just don’t get it.
* Their results were published mentioned by Ohio State University and originally published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, in an article titled: From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci first published online May 5, 2016 doi:10.1093/scan/nsw057
Dominik Mischkowski, Jennifer Crocker and Baldwin M. Way
** Each week about 23 percent of American adults (about 52 million people) use a medicine containing acetaminophen, the CHPA reports.
Acetaminophen – the main ingredient in the painkiller Tylenol – is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, found in more than 600 medicines, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group.