A pill as a quick solution : association between painkiller intake, empathy, and prosocial behavior

Previous research has demonstrated a link between the administration of analgesic drugs and the reduction of empathy levels in humans. This apparent blunting effect of pain medication has been explained through shared neural mechanisms for the first-hand and the empathic experience of pain (simulation theory). Considering that analgesics are among the most consumed drugs in the world and the ability to empathize with others is fundamental to human social interactions, the aim of the present study was to investigate whether the typical day-to-day analgesic consumption rate in Austria and Germany is associated with a reduction in empathy and prosocial behavior. We therefore collected self-reports of analgesic consumption behavior as well as empathy for pain and prosocial behavior measures in an online survey (n = 940). Analyses revealed no significant association between the analgesic intake frequency and measures of empathy or prosocial behavior. However, liberal intake of analgesics (i.e. mind-set of “a pill is a quick solution”) was linked to lower empathic concern and helping behavior, which may hint towards a negative effect in people who take pain medication for non-pain related issues or episodes of low pain. Nevertheless, further research is needed to investigate the effects of analgesic drugs in high frequency users.


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