By Georgianna Donadio, PhD – Last year, a study at the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences examined the connection and possible overlap between physical pain and emotional pain, offering insight into the pain of heart break.
This particular study had 62 participants who filled out the “Hurt Feeling Scale,” a self-assessment tool that measures an individual’s reaction to distressing experiences. In addition, the study used doses of the active ingredient in Tylenol® (acetaminophen) as part of its protocol.
The researchers separated the study volunteers into two groups. The first group, after filling out their self-assessment tools, received 1,000 mg of acetaminophen. This is a dose equal to one Extra Strength Tylenol®. The control group however, received a placebo instead of the acetaminophen.
The finding from this study showed that the control group without the acetaminophen, after three weeks, did not experience any change in the amount of intensity of hurt feeling during the three-week period. However, the group that did receive the painkiller reported a noticeable reduction of hurt feelings on a regular, day-to-day basis.
The outcomes were so interesting that the researchers started a second study cohort group of 25 different volunteers. This time, they upped the amount of acetaminophen to 2,000 mg daily and added computer games that were designed to create social rejection and a feeling of isolation in the participants. Also new to the study was MRI scanning to identify precisely when participants experienced feelings of social rejection.
Now here is the gold of this research: The outcomes demonstrated that the area of the brain where emotional discomfort is felt is the same location that the physical pain affects. This would explain why the group that was taking the acetaminophen, while not having physical pain, reported less feelings of hurt and rejection than the group that was not taking the acetaminophen but rather a placebo substance.
Geoff MacDonald, Ph.D, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who is an expert in romantic relationships, co-authored this study. MacDonald believes that the brain pain centers cannot tell the difference between physical pain and emotional pain.
So, while a painkiller like Tylenol® is not routinely recommended (it can lead to liver and digestive system disturbances), we now know that it can ease the pain of a broken heart. Soon, therapists as well as physicians may recommend you “take two Tylenol and call me in the morning” for temporary relief of heartache as well as headache.