New research led by psychologist C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky and reported in the journal Psychological Science suggests that physical pain and emotional pain may be more similar than you think.
In a first experiment, volunteers were randomized either to take 1,000 mg/day of acetaminophen (the equivalent of 2 extra strength Tylenol) or a placebo (inert tablets). Participants completed measures of hurt feelings. The researchers found that particants who were taking acetaminophen tended to report less hurt feelings over time relative to participants who were taking placebo.
A second experiment brought these ideas into an fMRI scanner. Here the researchers had the volunteers take a larger daily dose of acetaminophen (2,000mg) for three weeks. To allow the researchers to examine neural responses to social rejection, participants went into a scanner and played a computer game in which they were rejected. Brain regions associated (in other studies) with both social pain and physical pain were more active in the placebo subjects when they were rejected than in the acetaminophen group. In other words, acetaminophen dulled the brain's reponse to rejection.