If you’re feeling dreadful, a new study is now saying that popping some over-the-counter Tylenol could make you feel better.
The link between dread and Tylenol isn’t as murky as you might think, the researchers suggest. Existential angst is a type of pain, Daniel Randles of the University of British Columbia said in a press release:
Physical versus social pain
“Pain extends beyond tissue damage and hurt feelings, and includes the distress and existential angst we feel when we’re uncertain or have just experienced something surreal. Regardless of the kind of pain, taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong.”
They believe that the pathways in the brain that mediate this fear and anxiety are probably similar to those that mediate pain.
They’ve seen before that a dose of Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen, can reduce the pain of being socially ostracized as well as decrease physical pain — the usual reason we take the over-the-counter drug.
The new report was published April 11 in the journal Psychological Science. In the experiment, the researchers analysed the link between existential pain — the pain we feel when our lives are threatened — and its normal reaction — reasserting our basic values.
The theory goes that if a person is feeling less existential pain in response to a life-threatening situation, they won’t reassert their values as strongly.
Pain and prostitution
So, the researchers had half of their participants write about what would happen to their bodies after they died, and the other half write about a painful visit to the dentist. They then were asked to set the bail for a woman accused of prostitution.
People who were faced with the existential threat set the woman’s bail higher than those who talked about dental pain ($400 to $300); likely because they didn’t feel the need to reassert their values, the researchers said.
But, half of each group was given Tylenol (the other half was given a placebo). Those who had taken the drug picked bails around $300, similar to the control groups, even when they had to think about death.
The researchers also performed a similar experiment using a surreal David Lynch video clip from the movie “Rabbits” (2002) or clips from “The Simpsons.” After watching the clips, the participants were asked to determine fines that should be levied against participants in the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots, which had happened a few months before.
People taking Tylenol were as lenient as control participants when judging the rioters, levying fines of about $125 instead of $140 (the difference was significant).
“We’re still taken aback that we’ve found that a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches can also make people numb to the worry of thinking about their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film,” Randles said.
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