Scientists say getting over social rejection could be solved with Tylenol

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Tylenol can treat minor aches and pains such as headaches or toothaches. It can help control fevers, too. Now, it might help after a bad job interview or a horrible first date, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of California — Los Angles (UCLA) found that a little bit of forgiveness and a dose of acetaminophen, which is found in Tylenol, can help people get over the pain of social rejection, often associated with sadness, depression, and loneliness.

“Research has shown that physical pain and social pain are influenced by some of the same biological processes in the brain and body,” Senior author George Slavich, Ph.D., director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research, said in a statement. “Based on this research, we thought that acetaminophen, which is commonly used to treat physical pain, might also be able to reduce social pain.”

The study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, wanted to see how acetaminophen and daily forgiveness were associated with social pain. Over the course of 21 days, researchers randomly assigned 42 healthy young adults to three separate trials: double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled. Participants were given daily doses of either acetaminophen (1,000 mg), a placebo potassium pill (400 mg), or no pill at all.

Researchers kept on eye on participants’ levels of forgiveness and social pain for 20 consecutive days, according to the study.

To measure forgiveness, participants were asked to complete questionnaires that asked them to recall an instance where someone wronged them recently. An example of one of the questionnaires’ prompts was, “I hope this person gets what’s coming to them for what he/she did to me,” which participants answered on an agreement scale, with disagreement being a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). For social pain, participants were assessed with the Hurt Feelings Scale, which was a six-item prompt designed to measure levels of hurt feelings. Similar to the forgiveness questionnaires, participants were asked to measure their social pain on a 1 (not at all characteristic of me) to 5 (extremely characteristic) scale.

After the three-week trial, researchers found that acetaminophen reduced participants’ social pain levels over time, however, only when participants were opened to forgiveness.

“When combined with a tendency to forgive, taking acetaminophen substantially reduced how much social pain people felt over time,” Slavich said. “More specifically, participants taking acetaminophen who were high in forgiveness exhibited an 18.5% reduction in social pain over the 20-day study period.”

So how exactly do acetaminophen and forgiveness help alleviate being excluded from friends? Slavich explained:

“We think they help reduce experiences of social pain in different ways. For example, acetaminophen likely reduces social pain by influencing pain signaling in the brain through its effects on specific brain pathways. On the other hand, forgiveness has been found to lessen peoples’ feelings of stress and anger following experiences of social rejection and exclusion. Based on the findings from our study, it appears as though acetaminophen acts synergistically with peoples’ ability to forgive to alleviate the feelings of social pain that are commonly associated with rejection and exclusion.”

According to Slavich, social pain can develop into depression. It’s been often associated with “decreased cognitive function and increased aggression and engagement in self-defeating behaviors” often seen in the office, like taking unnecessary risk or procrastinating and putting off that assignment. As for physical pain, Slavich could only speculate but he believes that physical pain someone that a social relationship is “threatened or lost.”

“Looking forward, we hope to better understand the mechanisms underlying how acetaminophen and forgiveness alleviate social pain and, most importantly, how we can use this knowledge to enhance human health and wellbeing,” Slavich said.