Over-the-counter pain medicines such as Ibuprofen may influence how people process information, experience hurt feelings, and react to emotionally evocative images, research has found. In a study published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, scientists reviewed previous research suggesting that over-the-counter pain medicine may influence individuals emotions. Led by Kyle Ratner, researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the US, the team found that, women who took a dose of ibuprofen reported less hurt feelings from emotionally painful experiences, such as being excluded from a game. Men showed the opposite pattern. Those who took a dose of acetaminophen were less emotionally distressed while reading about a person experiencing physical or emotional pain and felt less regard for the person, researchers said.
Painkillers also affected the ability to process information. Compared to those who took placebos, people who took a dose of acetaminophen made more errors of omission in a game where they were asked, at various times, either to perform or to not perform a task. Individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen rated pleasant and unpleasant photographs less extremely than those who took placebos, researchers said. When asked to set a selling price on an object they owned, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen set prices that were cheaper than the prices set by individuals who took placebos. “In many ways, the reviewed findings are alarming,” researchers wrote in the study.
“Consumers assume that when they take an over-the-counter pain medication, it will relieve their physical symptoms, but they do not anticipate broader psychological effects,” they said. While the medicine could have new potential for helping people deal with hurt feelings, more research is needed to examine the efficacy and determine if it would have negative effects for people who take it in combination with other medicines or who are depressed and have difficulty feeling pleasure, researchers said.