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I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that mind and body are inextricably linked – for instance, the way that positive thinking can affect recovery from illness is, to me, absolutely fascinating. But researchers from the University of Florida are taking that idea one step further with their study, published in Psychological Science.

Psychologist Gregory Webster and his team believe that taking paracetamol (or acetaminophen, as they call it in the US) can help ease emotional pain in much the same way as it eases physical pain. Sounds a bit barmy, right? But wait, let’s look at what he’s saying.

The study involved volunteers who took paracetamol or a dummy pill every day for three weeks (just two 500mg pills a day, one on waking and one before going to bed). Those who took the real thing, that is, not the dummy, claimed to suffer less emotionally than the volunteers who took the placebo. Not just that, but brain scans showed they had less activity in the parts of the brain that’s linked to emotional feelings including hurt and social rejection.

It was a fairly small-scale study, with just 24 female and six male participants. And of course feelings of hurt and rejection can be incredibly subjective – so something that hurts your feelings may just bounce off my back without having any affect whatsoever. The interesting bit, however, is the brain scans. There again, the volunteers were scanned during a computer game of cyberball – a game that simulates social rejection, apparently, as it’s played between a number of players, any of whom at any time can be pushed out of the game with no reason. Hmmm, I’m not exactly sure how accurately that simulates social ostracisation, but there you go – the scans do show something, and those who had been taking the paracetamol didn’t feel so hurt by being left out of the game than the others taking the dummy pill.

Okay, okay, of course it doesn’t mean we should all take paracetamol to avoid feeling ignored or left out (when we’re playing computer games or otherwise). And it also doesn’t warn about the dangers of taking paracetamol for a prolonged period of time – look at any pack and you’ll say you shouldn’t take it for more than three days without your doctor’s advice. But you’ve got to admit, it’s an interesting idea, huh?

This discovery is important, say the researchers, because social exclusion is a common part of life – whether you feel left out at work, snubbed by your friends, your partners or family members, or slighted in any way in a social setting.

There again, is this another attempt to medicate the population? Will shy people just pop a pill to save themselves the bother of feeling awkward? Surely there must be a better way?