In a new study, researchers found that while painkiller acetaminophen can help people deal with a headache, it may also be making them more willing to take risks.
They found people who took acetaminophen rated activities like “bungee jumping off a tall bridge” and “speaking your mind about an unpopular issue in a meeting at work” as less risky than people who took a placebo.
The use of the drug also led people to take more risks in an experiment where they could earn rewards by inflating a virtual balloon on a computer: Sometimes they went too far and the balloon popped.
The researchers say that acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don’t feel as scared.
The research was conducted by a team at Ohio State University.
The study extends a series of studies led by the team that have shown acetaminophen – the main ingredient in the pain-reliever Tylenol and nearly 600 other medicines – has psychological effects that most people don’t consider when they take it.
Previous research by the researchers has shown that acetaminophen reduces positive and negative emotions, including hurt feelings, distress over another’s suffering, and even your own joy.
In the study, 189 college students came to a lab and took either 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (the recommended dosage for a headache) or a placebo that looked the same.
After waiting for the drug to take effect, the participants rated on a scale of 1 to 7 how risky they thought various activities would be.
Findings showed that those under the influence of acetaminophen rated activities like bungee jumping, walking home alone at night in an unsafe area of town, starting a new career in their mid-30s, and taking a skydiving class as less risky than those who took the placebo.
The effects of acetaminophen on risk-taking were also tested in three separate experimental studies and showed similar results.
The team says the findings have a variety of real-life implications.
For example, acetaminophen is the recommended treatment by the CDC for initial COVID-19 symptoms.
Perhaps someone with mild COVID-19 symptoms may not think it is as risky to leave their house and meet with people if they’re taking acetaminophen.
Even everyday activities like driving present people with constant decisions involving risk perception and assessment that could be altered by the use of the painkiller.
With nearly 25% of the population in the U.S. taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society.
One author of the study is Baldwin Way, an associate professor of psychology.
The study is published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Copyright © 2020 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.