The researchers theorize that acetaminophen may work because areas of the brain that process physical and social pain overlap, and what works to dull one sort of pain may help dull the other.
"When people are snubbed, rejected or dumped, they describe it as feeling hurt, crushed or broken-hearted," DeWall said. "What these data show is it's not just a metaphor. There is strong evidence neurobiologically to support that."
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers noted that levels of positive emotions remained stable during the first experiment involving the hurt feelings journals.
"We don't have any evidence acetaminophen makes people feel good or happy," DeWall said. "What we found was that acetaminophen does make things feel not as bad when you feel rejected."
And during the second experiment, despite differences in brain activity levels, participants reported similar levels of feelings of distress about the rejection.
That raises a question about the study, said Dr. Bernard Carroll, scientific director of the Pacific Behavioral Research Foundation in Carmel, Calif. If those taking the acetaminophen and those taking the placebo reported the same level of negative feelings about being rejected by their computer playmates, then the acetaminophen really didn't provide much in the way of psychological benefit.
Furthermore, it wasn't just the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula that showed differences in activity between the acetaminophen and the placebo groups. There were differences in many areas of the brain, which would indicate a generalized effect of the pain reliever rather than some specific impact on processing of pain-related emotions.
"My problem with the experiment is that they have shown a nominal statistical difference but they do not reveal the
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