While acetaminophen is helping you deal with your headache, it may also be making you more willing to take risks, a new study suggests.
People who took acetaminophen rated activities like “bungee jumping off a tall bridge” and “speaking your mind about an unpopular issue in a meeting at work” as less risky than people who took a placebo, researchers found.
Use of the drug also led people to take more risks in an experiment where they could earn rewards by inflating a virtual balloon on a computer: Sometimes they went too far and the balloon popped.
“Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities — they just don’t feel as scared,” said Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.
“With nearly 25 percent of the population in the U.S. taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society.”
The study extends a series of studies led by Way that have shown acetaminophen — the main ingredient in the pain-reliever Tylenol and nearly 600 other medicines — has psychological effects that most people don’t consider when they take it.
Previous research by Way and his colleagues has shown that acetaminophen reduces positive and negative emotions, including hurt feelings, distress over another’s suffering and even your own joy.
Way conducted the current study with Alexis Keaveney, a former doctoral student at Ohio State, and Ellen Peters, a former professor at Ohio State who is now at the University of Oregon. The study was published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
In one study, 189 college students came to a lab and took either 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (the recommended dosage for a headache) or a placebo that looked the same. After waiting for the drug to take effect, the participants rated on a scale of 1 to 7 how risky they thought various activities would be.
Results showed that those under the influence of acetaminophen rated activities like bungee jumping, walking home alone at night in an unsafe area of town, starting a new career in your mid-30s, and taking a skydiving class as less risky than those who took the placebo.