Imagine going to your doctor or therapist and having them suggest taking Tylenol to reduce the suffering and emotional pain you are experiencing from a romantic break-up. This may not be too far off in the future. A recent 2010 study conducted at the University of Kentucky, College of Arts and Sciences, examined the overlap between physical pain and emotional pain. The study followed 62 participants using the “Hurt Feeling Scale,” a self-assessment tool which measures an individual’s reaction to distressing experiences, as well as doses of acetaminophen.
The participants were divided into two groups. The first group was given 1,000 mg of the active ingredient, acetaminophen, found in one dose of Extra Strength Tylenol. The control group received a placebo pill. After a three week period the group which received the active ingredient reported a noticeable reduction in having hurt feeling on a day-to-day basis. The control group did not experience any change in their feelings.
Intrigued by the outcomes, the researchers began a second study group, this time using a 2,000 mg daily dose of acetaminophen and 25 different participants. What was added to this study group was computer games that were set up to create social rejection and a feeling of isolation in the participants – and MRI scanning which identified where the feelings of social rejection occurred in their brains.
The outcomes confirmed that the areas of the brain where physical pain is experienced were the same areas where the emotional discomfort or pain was located in with these participants. The study group taking the acetaminophen reported less feelings of hurt and rejection than the placebo group did.
Geoff MacDonald, PhD, is an expert in romantic relationships. He is a co-author of this study as well as an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. MacDonald reported that our brain pain centers do not know the difference between physical pain and the emotional pain that comes from a broken heart.
While Tylenol is not recommended to be used routinely as it can lead to liver and digestive system disturbances, knowing that it can take away the pain of a broken heart, just as it can help the pain of a bad headache, is a wonderful bit of information to have. It may soon be that our therapist’s recommendation for a broken heart is to “take two Tylenol and call me in the morning.”