Common painkiller may ease pain of social rejection

December 23rd, 2009 - 5:15 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 23 (ANI): A common painkiller can serve double duty, easing not just the physical pains of sore joints and headaches, but also the pain of social rejection, according to a new research.

Scientists have uncovered evidence indicating that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) may blunt social pain.

“The idea-that a drug designed to alleviate physical pain should reduce the pain of social rejection-seemed simple and straightforward based on what we know about neural overlap between social and physical pain systems. To my surprise, I couldn’t find anyone who had ever tested this idea,” psychologist C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology and lead author of the study said.

Physical and social pain appear to overlap in the brain, relying on some of the same behavioural and neural mechanisms. DeWall and colleagues investigated this connection through two experiments.

In the first experiment, 62 healthy volunteers took 1,000 milligrams daily of either acetaminophen or a placebo. Each evening, participants reported how much they experienced social pain using a version of the “Hurt Feelings Scale” - a measurement tool widely accepted by psychologists as a valid measure of social pain.

Hurt feelings and social pain decreased over time in those taking acetaminophen, while no change was observed in subjects taking the placebo. Levels of positive emotions remained stable, with no significant changes observed in either group.

These results indicate that acetaminophen use may decrease self-reported social pain over time, by impacting emotions linked to hurt feelings.

“We were very excited about these initial findings. The next step was to identify the neural mechanisms underlying the findings,” DeWall said.

In the second experiment, 25 healthy volunteers took 2,000 milligrams daily of either acetaminophen or a placebo. After three weeks of taking the pills, subjects participated in a computer game rigged to create feelings of social rejection.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) employed during the game revealed that acetaminophen reduced neural responses to social rejection in brain regions associated with the distress of social pain and the affective component of physical pain.

In other words, the parts of the brain associated with physical lit up in the placebo subjects when they were rejected, while the acetaminophen group displayed significantly less activity in these brain areas in response to rejection.

The study is due to be published in the journal Psychological Science. (ANI)

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