Acetaminophen, a common analgesic, may be blocking the brain’s ability to detect errors, according to a new study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted a double-blind neurological study to evaluate how acetaminophen could be hindering the brain response associated with making errors. Prior research conducted by postdoctoral fellow Dan Randles had shown that people were less reactive to uncertain situations after taking acetaminophen. Behavioral studies suggested that acetaminophen may hamper evaluative responses in general.

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Two study groups of 30 patients each were given a target-direction task called “Go or No Go” where patients hit the “Go” button every time the letter F flashed on the screen but not hit the button if an E flashed on the screen. Researchers measured the patient’s brain wave called Error Related Negativity (ERN) and Error Related Positivity (Pe) via an electroencephalogram (EEG). As patients make an error in the task, an increase in ERN and Pe are seen. 

One group that was administered acetaminophen 1,000mg (normal maximum dose) showed a smaller Pe when making mistakes vs. those who did not receive acetaminophen, indicating that acetaminophen possibly inhibits conscious awareness of the mistake. 

Randles noted, “It looks like acetaminophen makes it harder to recognize an error, which may have implications for cognitive control in daily life.” He plans to research further an unexpected observation where patients who received an acetaminophen dose seemed to miss more of the “Go” stimuli than they should have. By expanding on the error detection aspect, Randles hopes to see whether acetaminophen is possibly distracting patients and causing them to “mind wander.” 

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