In previous studies, social pain – like the pain of feeling shunned by peers and physical pain have evolved to use similar neurological mechanisms. They switch on the same regions in the brain that respond to unpleasantness. When acetaminophen has been given to patients, MRI scans have shown that those parts of the brain activate to a lesser degree and less pain is felt – whether it’s pain from a broken finger or the pain of feeling left out.

Working off this previous research, scientists at the University of British Columbia wanted to find out if acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol) could also decrease feelings of uncertainty that happen when our perception of life is threatened – whether thinking about our death, or watching a surrealist movie. To test their theory scientists asked participants to respond to some uncomfortable questions regarding their death. They also asked them to watch an unpleasant movie. The researchers found that those who took Tylenol were less upset by the experiences than those who were taking a placebo.

While these findings may seem exciting, Daniel Randles the lead author says to hold off raiding your local pharmacy for Tylenol right now. “The results for us were fairly robust, but I wouldn’t recommend that people take Tylenol when they are feeling down. We’d like to see other labs replicate our effort,” he said. Nathan DeWall, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky also believes it’s too early to suggest that Tylenol can help someone who is questioning the meaning of his life – but he likes where the research is going. “It is a great study that is broadening our perspective on unpleasantness, and showing us effective ways we can reduce it,” he said………..   4/22/13

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