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Acetaminophen, better known as paracetamol, became the go-to drug during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
The painkiller – used in brand names Tylenol and Panadol – helps reduce a variety of symptoms, including headaches and fever.
“Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don’t feel as scared,” lead author Baldwin Way said in a statement.
In a series of experiments involving more than 500 participants, Way’s team measured how a single 1,000-milligram dose of paracetamol – the recommended maximum adult single dosage – affected an individual’s risk-taking.
The participants were split into two groups: people who took the drug and others who were given placebos.
Participants were then asked to pump an uninflated balloon on a computer screen in return for imaginary money. The more they pumped, the more money they would get as long as the balloon didn’t pop – otherwise, they’d lose everything.
The findings showed that volunteers that took acetaminophen engaged in riskier behavior, such as inflating the balloon to its limit. Also, the instances of the balloons popping were more common in the paracetamol group than in the control group, the team noted.
Researchers also saw similar risk-averse behavior in the analgesic group after they were asked to fill out a survey rating the level of risk they perceived in various hypothetical scenarios, such as betting a day’s income on a sporting event.
Way noted that more research is needed to understand the painkiller’s psychological effect.
“With nearly 25 percent of the population in the US taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society,” he said.