Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in common painkillers such as Tylenol, has been found to dull the brain’s response to certain types of stimulus, according to a recent study.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience in March. It consisted of 62 subjects participating in double blind placebo controlled trials which looked at the effect that acetaminophen had on the brain’s response to stimulus.

Researchers found that participants who had been given acetaminophen had reduced mental reactivity to social rejection, frustration and dissonance. This suggests that the brain’s ability to evaluate and detect errors was inhibited by acetaminophen.


Researchers came to this conclusion using event-related potential (ERP), which is a method used to measure the brains response to events that require sensory, cognitive or motor skills.


Error-related positivity (Pe) is a component of ERP that reflects the recognition of an error occurring during sensory, cognitive or motor skill-related events. Researchers found that this response was inhibited in participants who had received acetaminophen. This suggests that acetaminophen reduces one’s ability to recognize mistakes made during certain tasks.

This study was published less than a year after it was revealed that acetaminophen blunts positive emotions one may experience when taking common pain killers such as Tylenol, according to lead study author Geoffrey Durso.

“Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever,” Durso said. “Most people probably aren’t aware of how their emotions may be impacted when they take acetaminophen.”

Acetaminophen (and the over-the-counter drugs that contain it) has been long-criticized for the physical effects it has on the body, such as liver damage, low blood sugar and jaundice. However, these studies are the first to show adverse psychological effects due to its consumption, suggesting further review needs to be done on the safety of acetaminophen and commonly used drugs that contain it.


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