LOS ANGELES — Try as you might, you’re just not going to please everyone. Many people feel a desire to be universally liked or even loved, but in reality we all encounter people in our life that we just don’t like, or don’t like us. As such, a certain degree of “social rejection” is inevitable. Social rejection can come in a number of different forms; romantic, not hitting it off with a hiring manager on a job interview, or struggling to make new friends at school or work are just a few examples. These scenarios, while universal, are almost assuredly going to cause some emotional distress that often spirals into depression, loneliness, and even physical pain.
Now, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles say they have discovered an unlikely combination that can cure this “social pain:” forgiveness and acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol.
The research team tracked a group of healthy adults for three weeks after randomly assigning each person to one of three groups. One group was given a daily dose of 1,000 mg of acetaminophen, another group received 400 mg of a potassium placebo, and a third group took no pills at all each day. Each person’s forgiveness levels were also measured with a daily survey. For instance, one of the survey’s questions read: “I hope this person gets what’s coming to them for what he/she did to me,” and asked participants to rate how strongly they agreed with the statement.
When combined with a forgiving mindset, taking acetaminophen each day appeared to significantly decrease the amount of social pain the participants were feeling over time. Among participants who displayed a predisposition towards forgiveness, taking acetaminophen resulted in an 18.5% drop in social pain over the course of the study.
“Research has shown that physical pain and social pain are influenced by some of the same biological processes in the brain and body. Based on this research, we thought that acetaminophen, which is commonly used to treat physical pain, might also be able to reduce social pain,” explains senior study author George Slavich, PhD, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research, in a release.
It is believed that forgiveness and acetaminophen help relieve social pain in different ways, but ultimately compliment each other nicely. Acetaminophen theoretically alleviates social pain by influencing brain signaling and pathways, while embracing forgiveness has been shown to lower overall stress and anger levels. In all, the study’s authors say that the two work in a synergistic manner, better equipping an individual to let go of the negativity surrounding social rejection and isolation.
Slavich was also asked why social rejection can result in physical pain.
“We can only speculate about why social rejection causes physical pain, but one possibility is that physical pain alerts the person to the fact that an important social relationship has been threatened or lost. This may motivate the person to try to rekindle the relationship or form other relationships to help ensure continued safety and survival,” he responded.
Further studies are already being planned to more extensively explore the relationship between forgiveness, acetaminophen, and social pain.
The study is published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.