Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tylenol for Rejection? Reducing the Pain of Rejection With Acetaminophen

As readers of some of my previous blog posts (or book, “The Need to be Liked”) may remember, one of the very interesting findings from psychological research over the past decade has been the discovery of a strong association between physical and emotional pain responses.
For example, when we are injured in some way, an area of the brain that processes this pain information is the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC). This same region of the brain becomes active following interpersonal rejection. The research evidence supporting the association between the two types of pain is remarkable, and beyond the scope of the present article. However, suffice to say that rejection from other people can actually ‘hurt.’
Well, some of the top researchers in the field of social psychology recently published some exciting follow-up work. They wanted to test the following hypothesis:
If acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) dulls physical pain, would it have the same effect on the emotional pain associated with rejection?
The researchers conducted two, well-designed experiments.
In the first experiment, research subjects were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: (1) acetaminophen or (2) placebo. The acetaminophen group took 1000 mg. of the drug everyday for 3 weeks. The placebo group took a placebo pill daily for the same length of time. All subjects were asked to keep track of the amount of social pain experienced in their daily lives (ex: whether their feelings were hurt that day).
Results from the first experiment showed that people in the acetaminophen group reported fewer amounts of pain from rejection relative to the placebo group. Presumably, both groups experiences a comparable amount of rejection and hurt feelings over the 3 week period, so the fact that the experimental group felt less pain indicates that the acetaminophen worked via the same processes that dull physical pain.
In the second experiment, subjects were again assigned to an acetaminophen or placebo group. However, in this experiment, the experimental group ingested 2000 mg. of the drug on a daily basis for 3 weeks. Afterwards, all subjects underwent an MRI evaluation of the brain – with a twist! Like previous experiments on rejection, subjects took part in a game where they were rejected. The researchers wanted to see what happened in the brain when the subjects felt hurt by the rejection.
Results showed that areas of the brain that typically “light up” during rejection (ex: ACC) were less active among the subjects that took acetaminophen relative to the placebo group. Again, the pain-relieving drug appeared to deactivate areas of the brain responsible for processing pain in general.
First, these experiments add to the long list of research studies demonstrating that interpersonal pain (ex: from rejection) overlaps with physical pain in terms of neurological and biological processes.
Second, this research raises interesting clinical implications – namely, should psychologists start recommending that clients going through a divorce or break-up take Tylenol to ease the pain? As of now, I would say “no” this is not recommended for at least a few reasons.
First, there needs to be some follow-up research that confirms and validates these findings.
Second, this additional research will have to evaluate dosage and response in a more clear-cut manner, in order to facilitate decision making around the appropriate dosage and frequency. Ideally, after further research, an expert panel would make recommendations to professionals (i.e., clinical treatment guidelines, or something to that effect).
Third, there is an inherent risk in recommending to someone who could be depressed and even suicidal that taking Tylenol will ease their pain.
Finally, whenever professionals start recommending that a drug be used to take away pain, there is the potential for people to over-rely on such an approach, which can have consequences. This is similar to the issues that surround the overuse of prescription medication for depression and anxiety, where people lose the ability to cope with mild to moderate stress and pain.
I look forward to seeing where this research goes, and will be sure to provide updates through this site.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Need to Be Liked - Ebook Now Available

After approximately 18 months of research, writing and editing, my new book "The Need to be Liked" is now available for sale on It is currently available as an e-book, which can be downloaded and read using many devices, including a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Kindle.

I am planning to make a hardcopy available for purchase in the near future.

For more information about the book and how to download it, please follow this link.