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Is Tylenol Dulling Our Capacity for Empathy?

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A package of Tylenol, which contains acetaminophen, is pictured on April 14th, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois.

It is frequently lamented that we have become a me-first society, in which people care little about the welfare of others. This ethos, arguably personified by our president, has been blamed in part on modern technology, and especially on social media.

But new research points to a very different and unexpected culprit: Tylenol.

In a follow-up to a startling 2016 study reporting that use of the popular painkiller acetaminophen dulls our response to others’ suffering, Ohio State University psychologist Dominik Mischkowski reports that it also makes us more indifferent to their pleasure.

“Given that an estimated quarter of all U.S. adults consume a drug containing acetaminophen every week, this research really matters,” Mischkowski said in announcing the findings. Amplifying his point, another new study finds that the ability and willingness to empathize with others promotes cooperative behavior.

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