Do painkillers kill empathy?

In the office, there's a good chance we'll all bump into a wide range of the more common character types. In recent years however, there's been a worrying rise in the amount of folks in positions of authority who lack basic empathy.

A lack of empathy can suggest a person might harbour sociopathic tendencies. If you have to deal with a boss like this on a regular basis, now might be the time to start looking for a new job. However, new research suggests there might be another reason why some of us just aren't capable of sharing other's pain.

Paracetamol Pills

Empathy can be a powerful tool. Now I'm not talking about the touchy-feely version, I am talking about the essential need to understand your customer’s pain. Only by understanding how your customers feel can you begin to understand them and more importantly work out what you can do for them.

A company without empathy is a company without effective customer service and we all know what happens when that occurs.

So, sociopaths and psychopaths aside, what else can cause an empathy gap in the boardroom or on the shop floor?

The simple answer is Acetaminophen, a major component in the popular pain killer Paracetamol. A new study suggests that for whatever reason, which is unclear at the moment, the drug contained in the world-famous painkiller can lower the empathic response in individuals.

The study was carried out on 80 students. Each of them was either given paracetamol or a placebo. They were then presented with a series of statements designed to trigger an empathic response. Incredibly, students who had taken the drug demonstrated a marked lack of empathy in stories where the individual suffered.

One of the scientists in charge of the study, Dr Dominik Mischkowski, said this about the study:  “These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen.”

Clearly the individual would need to be taking Paracetamol on a regular basis for it to affect their professional life and their judgement on a long term basis. But the study also highlights just how easy it is for us to change how we feel about ourselves and others.

If you're going through a tough time at work and feel like you need to be showing some empathy then it's probably a good idea to avoid taking Paracetamol until you're out of the woods or the spotlight. At the same time, if you've noticed a shift in the level of empathy a colleague has been showing recently, it might be an idea to take them aside and ask them if they've been taking the drug.

Paracetamol is the most commonly used pain killer in the world and people across the globe take it daily for a range of symptoms from headaches to sore fingers, but there are other options. If the drug is having other adverse effects on your company's ability to perform, it could be worth having a chat to anyone who may be affected.

The folks behind the study are now looking at the drug Ibuprofen to see if it has similar effects.

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About the Author

ALAN is CEO of CD as well as a qualified executive coach and a seasoned business mentor. He challenges progressive business people to step-up & realise their vision.

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