A pill as a quick solution: association between painkiller intake, empathy, and prosocial behavior


Previous research has demonstrated a link between the administration of analgesic drugs and the reduction of empathy levels in humans. This apparent blunting effect of pain medication has been explained through shared neural mechanisms for the first-hand and the empathic experience of pain (simulation theory). Considering that analgesics are among the most consumed drugs in the world and the ability to empathize with others is fundamental to human social interactions, the aim of the present study was to investigate whether the common analgesicconsumption rate in our society leads to a reduction in empathy and prosocial behavior. We therefore collected self-reports of analgesicconsumption behavior as well as empathy for pain and prosocial behavior measures in an online survey (n=940). Analyses revealed no significant association between the analgesicintake frequency and measures of empathy or prosocial behavior. Therefore, the present study suggests that the analgesicconsumption rate in our society does not have a blunting effect on these social cognition aspects. However, further research is needed to investigate the effects of analgesic drugs in high frequency users.

Scientific Reports