Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Experiencing existential dread? Tylenol may do the trick

Date:
April 16, 2013
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Thinking about death can cause us to feel a sort of existential angst that isn't attributable to a specific source. Now, new research suggests that acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain medication, may help to reduce this existential pain.

Thinking about death can cause us to feel a sort of existential angst that isn't attributable to a specific source. Now, new research suggests that acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain medication, may help to reduce this existential pain.

Related Articles


The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

According to lead researcher Daniel Randles and colleagues at the University of British Columbia, the new findings suggest that Tylenol may have more profound psychological effects than previously thought:

"Pain extends beyond tissue damage and hurt feelings, and includes the distress and existential angst we feel when we're uncertain or have just experienced something surreal. Regardless of the kind of pain, taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong."

Randles and colleagues knew from previous research that when the richness, order, and meaning in life is threatened -- with thoughts of death, for instance -- people tend to reassert their basic values as a coping mechanism.

The researchers also knew that both physical and social pain -- like bumping your head or being ostracized from friends -- can be alleviated with acetaminophen. Randles and colleagues speculated that the existentialist suffering we face with thoughts of death might involve similar brain processes. If so, they asked, would it be possible to reduce that suffering with a simple pain medicine?

The researchers had participants take either Tylenol brand acetaminophen or a sugar pill placebo in a double-blind study. One group of participants was asked to write about what would happen to their body after they die, and the control group was asked to write about having dental pain, an unpleasant but not existentially distressing thought.

All the participants were then asked to read an arrest report about a prostitute, and to set the amount for bail.

Just as expected, the control group that wrote about dental pain -- who weren't made to feel an existentialist threat -- gave relatively low bail amounts, only about $300. They didn't feel the need to assert their values.

On the other hand, the participants who wrote about their own death and were given a sugar pill gave over $500 for bail -- about 40% more than the dental pain group, in line with previous studies. They responded to the threat on life's meaning and order by affirming their basic values, perhaps as a coping mechanism.

But, the participants in this group who took Tylenol were not nearly as harsh in setting bail. These results suggest that their existential suffering was 'treated' by the headache drug.

A second study confirmed these results using video clips. People who watched a surreal video by director David Lynch and took the sugar pill judged a group of rioters following a hockey game most harshly, while those who watched the video and took Tylenol were more lenient.

The study demonstrates that existentialist dread is not limited to thinking about death, but might generalize to any scenario that is confusing or surprising -- such as an unsettling movie.

"We're still taken aback that we've found that a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches can also make people numb to the worry of thinking about their deaths, or to the uneasiness of watching a surrealist film," says Randles.

The researchers believe that these studies may have implications for clinical interventions down the road.

"For people who suffer from chronic anxiety, or are overly sensitive to uncertainty, this work may shed some light on what is happening and how their symptoms could be reduced," Randles concludes.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel Randles. The common pain of surrealism and death: Acetaminophen reduces compensatory affirmation following meaning threats. Psychological Science, 2013 (in press) DOI: 10.1177/0956797612464786

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Experiencing existential dread? Tylenol may do the trick." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130416085431.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2013, April 16). Experiencing existential dread? Tylenol may do the trick. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130416085431.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Experiencing existential dread? Tylenol may do the trick." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130416085431.htm (accessed January 25, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) — More schools are using online classes to keep from losing time to snow days, but it only works if students have Internet access at home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) — A Boston start-up is developing a wristband they say will help users break bad habits by jolting them with an electric shock. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

RightThisMinute (Jan. 23, 2015) — Not only is Kathy seeing her newborn son for the first time, but this is actually the first time she has ever seen a baby. Kathy and her sister, Yvonne, have been legally blind since childhood, but thanks to an amazing new technology, eSight glasses, which gives those who are legally blind the ability to see, she got the chance to see the birth of her son. It&apos;s an incredible moment and an even better story. Video provided by RightThisMinute
Powered by NewsLook.com
One Dose, Then Surgery to Test Tumor Drugs Fast

One Dose, Then Surgery to Test Tumor Drugs Fast

AP (Jan. 23, 2015) — A Phoenix hospital is experimenting with a faster way to test much needed medications for deadly brain tumors. Patients get a single dose of a potential drug, and hours later have their tumor removed to see if the drug had any affect. (Jan. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Anxious About Life and Afraid of Death? Tylenol May Do the Trick, Study Suggests

Apr. 16, 2013 — Researchers have found a new potential use for the over-the-counter pain drug Tylenol. Typically known to relieve physical pain, the study suggests the drug may also reduce the psychological effects ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins