From Salon, reposting from Alternet:
“Researchers from Ohio State University recruited 80 college students as test subjects. Half were told to drink a solution containing 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen, while the second half were given a placebo drink containing no drugs. After the medication took effect, the two groups were instructed to rate the pain levels of people in eight different fictional situations — all were emotionally or physically traumatic scenarios. One story involved a person forced to deal with a parent’s unexpected death, another a person with a severe stab wound. Researchers found that students who had taken acetaminophen rated the pain levels of the traumatized story characters lower than those who had ingested the placebo liquid.
In another experiment involving 114 students, half drank the acetaminophen solution and the other half were given the placebo. Both groups were then subjected to brief, loud blasts of white noise and asked to rate the pain levels of a fictionalized participant who had experienced the same. Those who had consumed the acetaminophen solution rated both their own pain and the pain of others who experienced the noise lower than those who drank the placebo solution did. In another study section, subjects were shown short videos depicting a person being socially rejected from a group and were asked to rate the level of emotional pain the rejection caused. Here again, the group that drank the acetaminophen-infused liquid rated the pain lower than those who had only ingested the placebo drink.”
A few reactions to this:
1. Many news reports on these weird studies summarize the findings as “Common pain-killers can make you less empathetic.” “These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” Dominik Mischkowski, the study’s co-author and a former Ph.D. candidate from Ohio State University, said in a news release.
Says Baldwin Way, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University: “Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”
I think I know what is going on here. This seems to be one of many ideologically-inspired studies, designed to make the case that those who are privileged and are in less daily distress are naturally less likely to be capable of empathy, and hence have less ethical reactions to the distress of others, including that caused by the conduct of the empathy-impaired. Continue reading