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Your Pain Medication May Be Diminishing Your Joy

A new study has revealed that certain pain medications may be reducing or diminishing the joy of people who consume these medicines. In particular, a study focused on the effects of acetaminophen and how test subjects reacted to positive and negative photos/visuals and found that the consumption of the pain-reliever dulled positive emotions.

Acetaminophen is the main ingredient in Tylenol in America and in Australia it is known as Panadol or Paracetamol. Previous research on acetaminophen has shown that the pain killer not only relieves physical pain but also psychological pain as well. This could mean that the use of acetaminophen may have further and broader consequences when taken.

The study was interesting because it showed that those who took the acetaminophen showed both less positive emotions to positive photos and negative emotions to negative photos. This is a unique find in my own opinion, because whilst there is no correlation or noted evidence between acetaminophen and other mental conditions such as anxiety and depression, it reminds me of how long-term opiate use can induce depression or worsen symptoms of depression.

The following extract from the study provides a greater understanding of the research and the emotional affects related to it:

“People who took acetaminophen didn't feel the same highs or lows as did the people who took placebos," Way said. For example, people who took the placebo rated their level of emotion relatively high (average score of 6.76) when they saw the most emotionally jarring photos of the malnourished child or the children with kittens.

People taking acetaminophen didn't feel as much in either direction, reporting an average level of emotion of 5.85 when they saw the extreme photos. Neutral photos were rated similarly by all participants, regardless of whether they took the drug or not. These findings seem dramatic, but one possibility is that acetaminophen changes how people judge magnitude. In other words, acetaminophen may blunt individuals' broader judgments of everything, not just things having emotional content, Durso said.

So the researchers did a second study in which they had 85 people view the same photos and make the same judgments of evaluation and emotional reactions as in the prior study. Additionally, participants in this second study also reported how much blue they saw in each photo.

Once again, individuals who took acetaminophen (compared to placebo) had evaluations and emotional reactions to both negative and positive photographs that were significantly blunted. However, judgments of blue color content were similar regardless of whether the participants took acetaminophen or not. The results suggest that acetaminophen affects our emotional evaluations and not our magnitude judgments in general.

The researchers do not know whether a similar set of effects are indicated in the use of ibuprofen as a pain-reliever as well, however they plan on studying whether this is the case as well. I would also be interested in the results for the ibuprofen as well as it is an effective pain reliever especially for its anti-inflammatory properties which can assist greatly where acetaminophen cannot. We will keep an eye on this research and report on it further when other pain-relievers receive similar studies and research.


  1. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150413091647.htm

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