Acetaminophen increases risk-taking

Monday, September 14th, 2020

Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol and sold widely under the brand names Tylenol and Panadol, also increases risk-taking:

In a series of experiments involving over 500 university students as participants, Way and his team measured how a single 1,000 mg dose of acetaminophen (the recommended maximum adult single dosage) randomly assigned to participants affected their risk-taking behaviour, compared against placebos randomly given to a control group.

In each of the experiments, participants had to pump up an uninflated balloon on a computer screen, with each single pump earning imaginary money. Their instructions were to earn as much imaginary money as possible by pumping the balloon as much as possible, but to make sure not to pop the balloon, in which case they would lose the money.

The results showed that the students who took acetaminophen engaged in significantly more risk-taking during the exercise, relative to the more cautious and conservative placebo group. On the whole, those on acetaminophen pumped (and burst) their balloons more than the controls.


  1. Bill says:

    From the abstract:

    “Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol® and nearly 600 other medicines, is taken each week by an estimated 23% of the US adult population. Recent research has demonstrated that acetaminophen’s effects on pain and fever reduction extend to psychological processes.

    For example, acetaminophen reduces hurt feelings, meaning threats, distress over another’s suffering, loss aversion and affective reactivity to negatively valenced images.”

  2. Felix says:

    Extrapolating from when how much you tweak something in a computer game to “risk taking” is a pretty risky jump.

    Better: Acetaminophen has been shown to cause college kids to want to blow things up.

  3. Kirk says:

    What I love is the assumption that it is a one-to-one thing, where Acetaminophen directly causes the effect.

    I’d propose an alternative explanation: Reducing pain and decoupling cause (of pain) from effect (pain) results in the feedback loop that exists under normal conditions becoming ineffective or nonexistent.

  4. Neovictorian says:

    I read something about ibuprofen having an antidepressant effect, and my experience is that there’s something to that, or at least for me, minor irritating things, and people, just don’t bother me as much on ibuprofen. It has a different pain reduction mechanism than Acetaminophen but it’s intriguing that they both have psychological effects.

  5. Kirk says:

    I’ve never experienced “psychological effects” from either drug that I could identify. How much of your experience is due to the power of suggestion and/or the effect of pain reduction? I’m a hell of a lot less grumpy when I’m not experiencing low-level pain, so…?

    I don’t doubt that there could be something to this, but I’m going to have to see something pretty damn convincing that this is a “real” thing, instead of someone’s half-assed poorly-designed experiment throwing off weird results. Do look at the article–Again, we have the idiocy of these assholes using college students as proxies for the rest of the population, which ain’t exactly what I’d call “good design”, in terms of the experiment.

    Like all too many of our “definitive” health care studies, the assholes used a select study group that does not in any way reflect the rest of the population, and then they’ve put out this result as though it were validated across the general population. What that article and study should have said is something to the effect of “We’ve found this effect in a small group of college-age young people, and it may or may not be present and/or prevalent in the general population…”.

    Piss-poor science, in other words. This crap is why I no longer pay the slightest attention to any of the pronouncements I see coming from the hallowed halls of academia–How many f**king times are we going to go back-and-forth on the health value of eggs and coffee, again and again?

  6. Buckethead says:

    Neovictorian, it may be that your tolerance is better just because you don’t have a headache…

  7. Neovictorian says:

    Buckethead (and Kirk) yes, “How much of your experience is due to the power of suggestion and/or the effect of pain reduction? I’m a hell of a lot less grumpy when I’m not experiencing low-level pain, so…?” of course, but I experimented a bit with ibuprofen and the effect seemed to be present when taking ibuprofen while feeling perfectly fine.

    Acetaminophen, on the other hand, never seems to work for me with much pain reduction, or any noticeable effect at all.

    I’m a big believer that one’s unique biochemistry has a big input on drug effects. I’m also a big believer in the placebo effect. The two are not incompatible.

  8. RLVC says:

    “This scientific result is disagreeable to me, therefore it is piss-poor.”


  9. Paul from Canada says:

    There is (at least I think it still exists), a website called spurious correlations, or something similar.

    They would search the literature for studies with good line graphs and compare them. Any two that had a graph shape that correlated at or better than a certain value were paired up on the site with hilarious results. None of them the studies were in any way related, like the number of films a certain actor was in correlates with per capita cheese consumption.

    Similarly the C.O.T.F.S.M. postulated that global warming was caused by the reduction over time of pirates, with stats cited.

    Repeat after me class…”Correlation is not (necessarily) causation”.

  10. Kirk says:

    Anyone who blindly cites press-release “science”, without doing even a cursory examination of the background information is no more a “scientific” person than your random deeply devout redneck Baptist that thinks the world was created on a Sunday some 4,000-odd years ago.

    The reality is that the “scientific world” is just as full of fraudulent activity as the normal one; a lot of grants are handed out not on the basis of rational inquiry, but on ideological grounds. Once you start looking into the financial interests, it becomes clear why you hear such specious bullshit as “97% of climate scientists agree that anthropogenic global warming is real”, when the reality is far from that. It’s more like “97% of climate scientists are convinced that if they deviate from the current groupthink, they’re gonna wind up living out of cardboard boxes in an alley…”.

    Science is only science so long as the people doing it are honest and open-minded enough to follow the data where it goes. Any layman interested in the concept of science has to at least educate himself in the background, examine the evidence and how it was obtained, and then form his own conclusions based on the actual track record of the involved scientists.

    You blindly accept the pronouncements of your white-robed elite, speaking from behind the podium in their lab coats, well… You’re really not much better than that redneck Baptist you make so much fun of. You’re taking everything the priest tells you on from on high, in front of the congregation, and the raw fact is, you’re as much a monkey as that Baptist.

    It’s actually kinda noticeable, once you look for it: The press conferences don’t look a hell of a lot different from the Sunday worship services, and if you look out over the faces of the believers, there’s the same vacant cow-like looks on their faces. They hear what they want to hear, and that’s the end of it.

    Calling something “scientific” does not make it true; even doing voluminous study work and spending billions while you’re at it doesn’t make it true. What makes it true is whether or not it actually is true, and there are a lot of people out there who are more than willing to dress lies, misconceptions, and self-delusion up into pretty clothes to make it look like “science”. They make great money telling people things like “Sugar doesn’t make you fat… Fat and protein is bad for you… Cigarette smoke doesn’t hurt your health… Second-hand cigarette smoke will kill you quicker than lighting up that Marlboro…”.

    As in anything, follow the money: Who paid for the research, and who benefits if they can use it to con the rest of the rubes?

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