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Does Feeling Rejected Cause Physical Pain?

We all know that rejection hurts, but neuroscience has concluded that it does in fact, literally, hurt. Commonly found in pain relievers, acetaminophen gets rid of more than just physical agony — it also diminishes emotions such as rejection.

So is it the emotional component manifesting physically, or is the physical component manifesting emotionally? This aspect needs further study.

The emotional relief side effect has been cited for the first time by lead author Geoffrey Durso, a social psychology doctoral student at Ohio State University, and his colleagues after conducting 2 studies. Acetaminophen is found in more than 600 medications, including Tylenol.

“Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever,” Durso said in a news release.

Each study used college students and the first consisted of 82 participants. Half of them took 1000 milligrams of acetaminophen while the others took a placebo that looked exactly like the real thing. After waiting one hour for the pill to kick in, participants were asked to rate 40 pictures from -5 being extremely negative to +5 being extremely positive. Then they viewed the same pictures again and rated how much emotion they felt from 0 being little or no emotion to 10 being extreme amount of emotion.

Taken from the database International Affective Picture System, the pictures made up a large range. Some were very unpleasant, like malnourished children, while others were neutral, like, a cow in a field, and the rest were very pleasant, like children playing with cats.

The results showed that the participants who took acetaminophen rated the positive pictures less positively and the negative less negatively than the placebo group. The authors noted that both groups had similar ratings on the neutral pictures in the study published in Psychological Science.

“People who took acetaminophen didn’t feel the same highs or lows as did the people who took placebos,” Baldwin Way, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at OSU and one of the authors, said.

The researchers repeated the study using 85 new participants and their assessments were comparable to the first.

Psychology researchers have questioned if biochemical factors control how someone feels during both good and bad life events. The 2 studies support the psychological theory that common factors influences an individual’s sensitivity to both kinds of situations. This documentation leads the team to link acetaminophen works its way into those emotions.

“The results suggest that acetaminophen affects our emotional evaluations and not our magnitude judgments in general,” the statement said.

Durso commented that the team is planning to study if other pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin cause the same side effect.

Read the abstract here:

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