Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Did you know that a commonly used pain reliever reduces your ability to feel empathy by reducing activation in brain areas related to emotional awareness and motivation?
Acetaminophen [the generic name for Tylenol] is a potent physical painkiller that works by blunting your response to your own pain. We have known for several years that this drug reduces your ability to empathize with other people’s suffering. A study published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology [Published online 2019 Mar 29. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00538] reveals that this drug also reduces your ability to experience and express positive empathy.
A substantial amount of research shows that understanding and sharing in other people’s pleasurable experiences fosters psychological health, interpersonal trust, intimacy, and a prosocial orientation, both for the source and the recipient of positive empathy (Morelli et al., 2015).
Why is this important? Think about all of the times in your life when you felt glad or sad for someone else. Take acetaminophen, and you’ll have to work a lot harder to care.